What is a dry Drunk – putting down without really getting clean.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Alcoholic beverages.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

They quit drinking and using but nothing else changed.

They quit drinking, they put down the drugs. The family hopes. They have heard this before. “I am done,” this is the last time. The now-former drinker starts talking a good game. They swear they are not doing drugs. Things will change now. The family wants to believe them. For a little while, there is hope.

Only nothing does change.

Despite the not drinking and the lack of drugs, the person behaves the same way they used to. They are miserable. Their relationships at home and work do not improve, not the way they think they should. The family and friends don’t like being around them anymore now than they did when the person was drinking and using. They are dry but they are not sober.

Suddenly without drugs and alcohol in their system, they feel feelings they have kept at bay for a long time.  Life does not miraculously become perfect. There are bills to pay, legal consequences to take care of and relationships to mend. Life becomes real with its ups and downs.

Dry drunks are easy to spot if you know what you are looking for. They turn up at meetings all across America. Some have been off the sauce for years, 5 years maybe. But they are miserable. And they make others miserable. They are full of anger, bitterness and hurt.

They may turn to a religion. The go to church and become more righteous than the preacher. They can see the flaws and failings of everyone they meet – just not in themselves.

Eventually, the stop going to meetings, that program doesn’t work they tell others. They went but they never really participated. They wanted a shortcut to recovery. One that did not require them to do the painful work of changing.

They may leap from church to church; decrying people as hypocrites and saying people there were not true believers. They learn rules on how to worship but not the values of hope, caring and compassion.

Families tire of being around them. The dry drunk thinks they deserve credit for not drinking and using. The family doesn’t see what has changed. The alcoholic or drug addict is still self-centered and unhappy.

Sometimes the family will tell the dry person “liked you better when you were drinking, you were more fun then.” Or “at least when you were drinking we knew what to expect.”

Dry drunks can go on walking around miserable for years. Eventually most either relapse or turn up in counseling. They attribute their problems to something else, a bad relationship or a difficult work situation. Yes, of course, they have problems. Just putting down the drug or giving up the alcohol does not make all your problems magically disappear.

Some become so discouraged that they stop trying. Why give up the drink if life will never get any better? We see them in multiple drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Eventually what most recovering people find is that they never really had a drinking or drug problem – they have a living sober problem. The problem was not the drugs. Drugs and drinks were their solutions. A solution that temporarily hid their problems but did not solve them.

What they learn eventually, if they learn it at all, is that what they really have is a life problem.

How do you live a happy, fulfilled life without the drugs and alcohol?

Finding that better life requires more than just not drinking or putting down the drugs. It requires an active process of change. Going to meetings is not enough, you need to actually “work” the steps, do the work of change.

Counseling also involves a process of change. The recovery, from whatever your problem is, does not happen in the sixty minutes of each session. In that time we can chart a course, teach skills and help you discover pain you didn’t know you had. The real work of recovery happens in your daily life, in that other 167 hours per week when you need to practice new skills and new ways of being.

If you or someone you know is a dry drunk, has put down but not gotten clean and sober, don’t give up. Find someone you can work with that can help you really become clean and sober.

For more on recovery topics see:

Getting your tools dirty

Getting some recovery

Is relapse a part of recovery?

Running hard after recovery

Why giving up the drugs and alcohol did not make you happy

What is hitting bottom?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

1 thought on “What is a dry Drunk – putting down without really getting clean.

  1. Pingback: 7 recovery tools you need | counselorssoapbox

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.