As habitual as a migration of birds, clients have come to me thrilled their loved one has stopped drinking, yet report that the partnership is as brittle as tinder and inexplicably worse than before. Confusion abounds as both have desired sobriety and yet now that it is here, wonder why the relationship seems to be on rockier ground than when the alcoholic was drinking.
This can be the world of the "dry drunk" whether alcoholic or drug addict, however here I refer only to the alcoholic.

So, what is a "dry drunk"? In putting the pieces together from my own personal experiences as well as my clients, the description seems to be universal; one that abstains from alcohol, but is still grappling with the emotional and psychological maladies that may have fueled their addiction to begin with, and continues to have a strangle hold on their psyche.

If any of us were to stop participating in something that we were used to doing for years, something that was a substantial part of our daily existence, we would need additional help emotionally and psychologically in working through that absence; in conjunction with the physical aspect. Remember that alcohol (and that addiction) was the fiber and a substantial, if not total embodiment, of their being.

The alcoholic needs and should want to be responsible for all aspects of their recovery whether it is through a 12- step program and/or a professional substance abuse counselor, otherwise their growth in recovery could be stunted with only one piece of the pie in check; being physically clean and sober.

Without working on (and realizing that this part of recovery needs as much work as the physical addiction does) the emotional/psychological portion, the alcoholic may become lazy, irritable, easily annoyed or quick to anger and will defend and justify at the slightest questioning or provocation.

I have listed 6 characteristics and/or dispositions of the "dry drunk" that can hit the recovering alcoholic hard in the honest light of sobriety in addition to putting added strain and pressure on the relationship. Keep in mind that your loved one may not know how to handle these realizations, and consequently may use you as a punching bag for their frustration and discontent.

1) Resentment at a spouse, parent or whomever that has made them stop drinking or else...
2) Annoyed and frustrated with the realization that they can't drink like a "normie" or ever again.
3) Realizing that because of their drinking, they may have not realized goals, dreams and potentials and wondering if it's too late, or if they are even capable of achieving those goals or dreams.
4) Having to accept and take responsibility for the wasted years due to drinking sans an excuse or justification.
5) Anxious about venturing out or challenging themselves for fear of failure. The alcoholic may not have had any normal life experience with failure and success, which in turn would make them stronger and wiser. Instead those years were void of dealing with life on life's terms due to the alcoholic addiction.
6) Jealous of others for their stick-to-itiveness, perseverance and strength. Resenting the family member or friend for their dreams and punishing them by not being supportive, questioning their ability and striving to clip their wings of creativity.

If your loved one is acting out these dispositions, you may feel like you need to "walk on egg shells", watch every move or word as you don't want to incite an angry exchange. I have heard clients say that at least when their loved one was drinking they knew what to expect. Either way, you feel "damned if you do, damned if you don't"; irresponsibility, anger and resentment now seem to go with the active alcoholic as well as the "dry drunk".
I've been there with my own loved one and it's not a comfortable place to be.

An open mind and positive attitude is a good place for the recovering alcoholic to start and it is imperative for them to deal with the painful issues that might have brought them to their addiction in the first place. This is the only way for any real progress toward a clean and healthy life style can take form.

Though this may sound sophomoric, but the alcoholic/addict needs to pursue another passion other than his drug of choice. Whether it's a stamp collection, returning to school or rebuilding an old Mustang; anything to break old habits deter from resentments and a "woe is me" attitude and instead strive toward healthy alternatives. Feeling good about personal accomplishments and prideful goals is strong emotional medicine for the alcoholic working on their recovery.

If these objectives can become standard operating procedure the alcoholic/addict can and will come to appreciate the need for expanding their clean and sober lifestyle beyond the act of just not indulging in their addiction. It stands to reason that if your loved one can funnel his or her energy toward healthy productive objectives, they will be successful in leaving the negative disposition of "dry drunk" by the waste side.

If I can be of service, please visit my website and I invite you to explore my new book Reclaim Your Life - You and the Alcoholic/Addict at

About the Author

Carole Bennett M.A.

Carole Bennett, M.A., is a family substance abuse counselor, lecturer, columnist and author based at her Family Recovery Solutions Counseling Center in Santa Barbara, CA.

You are reading

From Heartache to Hope

Resentment toward the alcoholic-still after all these years?

Resentment is a tough nut to crack. It can be healthy and harmful.

Five drug myths on campus

What are some of the truths and myths about drugs and alcohol on colleges today?

Addiction on our college campuses

Some questions/anwers about drugs and alcohol on college campuses