Definition, symptoms, how to cope

Dry drunk syndrome is a term that Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) originally developed. AA used the term to describe a person who has stopped drinking alcohol but still experiences the issues or behaviors that contributed to their alcohol use disorder (AUD). However, many people now consider the term to be stigmatizing and discourage its use.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a form of brain disorder. A person with AUD is unable to stop drinking alcohol, despite the effects it has on their life.

Giving up alcohol completely can be an important step in a person’s recovery from AUD. However, this can be a long, difficult process during which some people may experience dry drunk syndrome.

This article discusses dry drunk syndrome in more detail, including its symptoms and how a person can cope with it.

Dry drunk syndrome is a term that AA developed to describe a person who no longer drinks alcohol but experiences the same issues or acts in the same way as when they were drinking.

As the term referred to people who were sober but not receiving treatment for their AUD, it implied that a person was not fully committed to sobriety. Due to the implication that someone is not trying hard enough to recover, the term has negative connotations, and AA now discourages its use.

There is little scientific evidence for the existence of dry drunk syndrome. However, some people consider it to be part of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

PAWS is a series of psychological and mood-related symptoms that can occur after a person stops taking a substance.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) does not recognize the terms dry drunk syndrome and PAWS.

A person experiencing symptoms of PAWS should not feel shame or discouragement. These symptoms can be a normal part of the recovery process from AUD.

A person who has PAWS may experience similar symptoms to when they were drinking alcohol. These symptoms can include:

  • mood shifts
  • variable energy levels
  • irritability
  • difficulty with memory, learning, or problem-solving
  • anxiety
  • feelings of panic
  • low mood
  • difficulty maintaining relationships
  • craving alcohol
  • feeling negative or having no enthusiasm
  • trouble sleeping
  • feeling more stressful

The Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior states that about 75% of people recovering from AUD experience PAWS. However, there is no information on how many people these symptoms specifically affect.

If a person experiences symptoms of PAWS, they should not feel defeated. The experience of AUD recovery can vary significantly among individuals. There is no right or wrong way for a person to recover from AUD, so a person should not compare their recovery journey with that of other people.

If a person has symptoms of PAWS, it does not mean that they are having a relapse. A relapse occurs when a person who has stopped drinking alcohol begins drinking again.

However, having symptoms of PAWS, which can last for up to 2 years following alcohol withdrawal, can put a person at higher risk of relapsing. The symptoms of PAWS can come and go, which may cause a person to believe that they are not making progress.

If a person does relapse, they should remember that relapse can be a normal part of recovery. A person in recovery should also try to focus on the progress that they have made so far. Relapse is something to regard as a temporary setback rather than a failure.

A person may find it disheartening or frustrating to experience PAWS symptoms. However, they can use various methods to manage these symptoms, such as:

  • Practicing self-care, such as eating well, exercising, and avoiding trigger situations
  • reviewing the events that occurred before the PAWS symptoms flare-up and using them to prepare for another instance
  • Starting a journal to keep track of feelings and experiences
  • Considering seeking professional assistance, which could be from an AUD support group or a therapist
  • spending a limited amount of time on tasks that are difficult to concentrate on
  • taking their mind off things by doing activities, such as meeting with a friend or going for a walk
  • writing reminders for certain tasks if they are experiencing memory issues
  • limiting caffeine and maintaining a good sleep routine
  • Remembering that these symptoms will eventually pass

If a person is having difficulty with their PAWS symptoms, they should speak with a healthcare professional. A healthcare professional may be able to suggest certain coping methods or support groups that could be beneficial. They may also be able to prescribe medications, such as acamprosate (Campral), to help with the symptoms.

A person can also find more information about local treatment centers by using sites such as findtreatment.gov.

Going through AUD recovery can be a difficult process. A person who has PAWS may find it helpful to have the support of their loved ones.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, family and friends can help a person with a substance use disorder, including AUD, by:

  • expressing concern and making their support evident
  • creating a judgment-free and loving environment in which the person can speak openly and honestly
  • letting the person know about any relevant family history of substance use disorders
  • being compassionate
  • helping the person find treatment services
  • Reminding them that people do recover from AUD and that it is possible for them to do so
  • taking time to recover and decompress so that they can be present for the person

Dry drunk syndrome is a term that AA developed. They used the term to refer to people who no longer drink alcohol but experience the same issues or behaviors as when they did.

Many now consider dry drunk syndrome to be a stigmatizing term, as it can imply that a person is not putting in the effort necessary to recover. Instead, some people consider the symptoms to be part of PAWS. However, the DSM-5 does not recognize either of these terms.

PAWS symptoms are reasonably common among people recovering from AUD. If a person has concerns about their PAWS symptoms, they can try using various methods to manage them. They can also speak with a healthcare professional, join a support group, or both.

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