Distanced Couple

It is more common than you might think to be disillusioned when a loved one stops drinking. On the one hand, of course you are thrilled that they no longer get drunk every day. However, do you feel that instead of their sobriety enhancing your relationship, it has now inexplicably become worse than before?

This can be very confusing and upsetting for loved ones of alcoholics in recovery. More often than not, in spite of putting the alcohol down, your loved one is what is known to be a dry drunk.

What is a dry drunk?

In layman’s terms, a dry drunk is an alcoholic who manages to abstain from alcohol, but does not yet have an understanding or a willingness to work on the emotional and psychological root issues that were causing the addiction in the first place.

It is important to remember that your loved one has probably been using alcohol as a crutch and a solution to their problems for a long time now. Take away the crutch and you are left with the alcoholic and their problems. It’s not surprising that they need additional emotional and psychological help to work through and resolve those problems.

Being physically clean and sober is, unfortunately, only one piece of the recovery jigsaw. Unless they are prepared to work on the emotional and psychological pieces, there is a high chance that the alcoholic will become lazy, quick to anger, easily annoyed and defensive. All signs of a dry drunk.

More signs and symptoms of a dry drunk:

  • Resentment at loved ones, especially if they were the ones to encourage them to stop drinking.
  • Annoyed and angry that they can’t drink like other people any more.
  • Angry and upset at just about everyone and everything (other than themselves) when they realise how much time and their own potential they wasted drinking.
  • Furious if they are asked to take responsibility of anything, especially their previous behaviour.
  • Anxious about trying anything new or challenging themselves for fear of failure. Angry at other people because they feel anxious.
  • Jealous of others, especially those nearest to them who aren’t alcoholics.

When a loved one starts behaving like this, you might feel like you need to consistently walk on eggshells. Are you feeling the need to watch and monitor every word that comes out of your mouth, or move that you make, just incase you set off an explosion or cause an argument? It’s even possible that you preferred the way things were when your loved one was drinking, because at least then you knew what to expect. You understood their drunk behaviours, you knew what they needed when they were hung-over.

What can you do when living with a dry drunk?

Get your own treatment: Living with a dry drunk can be very stressful. It may put on a lot of strain on your own wellbeing and mental health. Seeking counselling for yourself will help you learn coping strategies to get you through this difficult time.

Boundaries: These are so important when dealing with a dry drunk or an alcoholic. Decide what you will and won’t accept and make sure you stick to your guns. If the situation gets too explosive at any point, remove yourself rather than remove the boundary.

Self-care: Living with a dry drunk can take up a lot of your time and energy. Make sure you look after yourself by giving yourself some “me time” and doing things for yourself and that you enjoy.

Plan an intervention: If things are getting really bad at home, sometimes a well-planned intervention between loved ones and professionals can really help a dry drunk who is stuck in denial.

What can a dry drunk do to help themselves?

Be prepared to deal with painful issues: Without the willingness to look at certain issues your loved one may be dealing with, it will be very difficult for them to make any real progress.

Pursue another passion: Alcohol will have been their passion and obsession for years and it will have left a big void with its disappearance. It may sound obvious, but they need to find something to fill that void. Something that will distract them from the resentment they feel and help them move towards healthy emotions.

Consider treatment: Even though they are no longer in active addiction, your loved one may still need help from a specialised alcohol treatment centre. Specialised rehabs will help your loved one address the emotional and psychological issues that were at the root of your loved one’s addiction. Until they resolve these issues, maintaining a happy and successful recovery will be a challenge.