The Dry Drunk Syndrome – Impulsivity

Dr. Lorin Bradbury, author of "Treasures from an Old Book, Ancient Wisdom for a Modern World".

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I don’t have a question to respond to, but I have had many people ask about the dry-drunk syndrome. So, over the next few weeks, I will delve into each of the identified characteristics in more detail.

A dry drunk is someone who has quit drinking or drugging but continues to manifest behaviors of alcoholism or drug addiction. In essence, the individual has not made the necessary emotional changes that should characterize sobriety.

Being an alcoholic or drug addict sets up many thought patterns, attitudes, feelings, and actions that are immature. You might think of it as a perpetual state of adolescence. Simply removing the alcohol or drugs without changing these underlying factors produces the dry drunk syndrome. It’s often those around the non-drinking alcoholic or non-using drug addict that recognize a lack of progress toward recovery or a reversion back to the old ways of thinking and acting.

For some who have made progress, the dry drunk state can be a precursor to a relapse. Some of the symptoms of a dry drunk state are restlessness, irritability, moodiness, and general discontent. There are several attitudes associated with the dry drunk syndrome described in substance abuse treatment literature. Over the past two weeks I wrote on self-centeredness and grandiosity. Today I will address Impulsivity.

Impulsivity – A common observable behavior of people with addiction problems is poor impulse control. They tend to do what they want when they want, with little regard for others around them. Unfortunately, those who have quit drinking or drugging, but have not made the necessary emotional changes may still be very impulsive. And when impulsivity is combined with grandiosity (the characteristic addressed last week), the individual may become very demanding.

Entitlement thinking that characterize virtually every alcoholic and drug addict feeds this impulsiveness. Years of alcohol and drug abuse create a thirst for immediate relief or satisfaction. So even when the alcohol or other mood-altering substance is removed, there still is the demand for immediate relief.

If while reading this, you recognize this characteristic, I encourage you to reach out for help either from an addiction specialist, or an AA or similar self-help group. If you have a loved one who is stuck in this state of perpetual adolescence, encourage them to get help. To live in a dry-drunk state is to live in misery. There is a better way. Face your fears and let others help you.

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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