6 Characteristics You Are Living with a Dry Drunk, and 3 Things You Can Do About It

In my opinion there are two types of people in recovery, the first is an addict in active recovery. This group is actively working towards a better life for themselves; they could be working a 12-step program, with a therapist or both.

I grew up in a house with two people in recovery, my mother whose sobriety birthday came 2 years after I was born. I know her actual birthdate brings her great joy, however I know her pride comes from her sobriety birthday. It reminds me of a book that I read a few years ago, part of the story spoke about celebrations within the community.  The community did not celebrate birthdays, as getting older was inevitable, you had to do nothing special and every year that date comes with little or no effort. In the book they celebrated getting wiser, and the person who got wiser, had to announce and set up their own celebration. During the celebration the person who was celebrating had to share their new wisdom with everyone else in the community.

With my mom and many other addicts in recovery we understand one thing. That sobriety or clean time is not a given. Just like growing in wisdom is not a given. Growing in sobriety, and growing in wisdom takes work every day, it takes you growing in your self-knowledge and the knowledge of the world around you. In recovery programs you call your celebration and you share your story of how you are recovering. (Maybe the writer was a 12-stepper)

The second group is an addict that has stopped the addiction but is doing nothing more, the behaviours and actions that happened when they were in their addiction continue. Within one 12-step program this person is known as the “Dry Drunk”. This person does not always see or refuses to see the work required for long lasting deep recovery.

Addicts in true recovery talk about the daily work and the daily commitment to being a better person today than they were yesterday. The addict should and needs to be responsible for every aspect of their recovery.  They speak to the damage their addiction caused to them and to those around them. They openly make amends (when to do so is safe), they speak about the 12-steps and how that journey is never completed.

The “Dry Drunks” story is usually much simpler, “I quit and I never looked back.  The behaviours that they had are still happening, the rage, the anger, the resentment, the fear and the lack of responsibility for their actions not only as an active addict but also in their current substance free life.

The joy and happiness a family feels when an addict stops is usually short lived with a dry drunk. The initial uptake of happy is quickly washed away as the fear, anger and resentments quickly come back and projected on the people around them.  I hear many people say: “I thought we were good but I am back walking on eggshells.”

6 Characteristics of a Dry Drunk


  1. Resentments: After the person quits they soon start to show resentment towards the person who they believe made them quit. The resentments they feel in their life, the ones that they used as a reason to medicate with the addiction are eating away at them again. Now they have nothing to make it go away so the people in front of them become the target of their own fear.
  2. Annoyed and Angry: They are angry, even though it has some control the explosions still happen and it’s always someone else’s fault. If their past relationship dissolved and they are in a new one, their anger is at their ex-partner. But sooner or later without true recovery the current partner starts to see and feel this directed at them.
  3. Normalization or celebration of their addiction: The stories they tell about being so drunk, high, or gambling are always told with excitement and with only the good times when they were the life of the party. Anything they consider shameful is not discussed.
  4. Anxiousness: In early recovery the withdrawal or anxiousness is normal and it will pass as recovery deepens. But, with someone who is stuck in their addiction they are likely to not go away or they will fully transfer to another aspect of their life.
  5. Communication shut down: Communication in recovery needs to grow, if the addict is not communicating or giving the silent treatment without explanation (I take time to myself to work through issues and meditate, but I say what I am doing and after I am done I share my learning.) Addicts who are stuck continue to fear and continue to shut down.
  6. Better than syndrome: If someone is comparing themselves as “better than” those losers at the group meeting, or my therapist is a jerk, I already know everything. Not only is this a toxic behaviour it is also someone who is not deepening their recovery.

All of these characteristics can having people who are living with the addict that stopped the substance or behaviour saying; “at least when they were using I knew what to expect.” A person living with someone who is stuck in the addiction but has stopped using tend to fear the ups and downs more now than every. Yet, they don’t understand why, because the person has stopped.  “Things were supposed to get better right?”

There are three things that a person who lives, loves or is impacted by an addict can do to support themselves and the addict.


  1. Find an Al-anon meeting in your area and attend it. These are fantastic resources that will give you tools and resources so you can recovery as well. Al-Anon also shows us that we are not alone, journeying with people is really important and having community that is understanding, compassionate, honest and kind. This combination alone goes along way in your own healing. Plus there are so many groups if the first one does not feel right try another one.
  2. Find a trusted therapist. In the early stages of recovery everyone requires help, not just the addict. Addiction has the ability to change people, it will unearth traumas that we may not even know we had. A therapist who has experience in addiction is important in recovery. They can also help separate what is reality and what is not.
  3. Communicate your needs and boundaries and stick to them. This is a whole lot easier if 1 and 2 are in place. Many people fear boundaries because we have been taught boundaries mean we don’t love someone, in truth they mean we love them very much.

Living with anyone can be hard and just because someone does or does not have an addiction does not mean we don’t bring a whole bunch of wounds to every relationship. However, addiction will enhance and expose those wounds to a very deep level.  Uncovering them and bringing them to the light will allow the wounds to heal, and that means we heal.

Please let me know in the comments if you have any thoughts on this, has a dry drunk impacted your life?

Keep Chasing Those Cars…

With love, respect, and admiration.



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