If you’ve quit drinking alcohol but are still struggling with the negative and destructive attitudes, thoughts and feelings as you did during active addiction, you may be dealing with what’s called “dry drunk syndrome” (DDS) also known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS).
While dry drunk syndrome is most common among those who quit drinking alcohol without the professional support, therapies and treatments of addiction professionals, anyone can become a dry drunk, especially during the emotionally charged first year of sobriety when you may experience intense thoughts, feelings or urges to drink.
In a previous article, we looked at managing lapses, relapses or triggers. In our experience, one of the best techniques to manage cravings, urges or temptations to drink or use is called Urge Surfing. It helps you to manage the intense feelings you experience without resulting to drinking or using again.
Also, learning the signs and symptoms of dry drunk syndrome (DDS) as well as a few strategies to help you better cope, they can help you, a friend or someone you love to move past this stumbling block toward long lasting, happy and successful recovery.
Why Do We Experience Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?
PAWS, whether mild or serious, is a necessary process in early recovery from alcohol or other drug dependence. Think of the withdrawal syndrome as the brain’s way of correcting the chemical imbalances and changes that it’s suffered during active addiction.
PAWS occurs most commonly and intensely among individuals with alcohol and opioid addiction, as well as in people with addiction to benzodiazepines (or “benzos,” which are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety and panic attacks), heroin (an opiate) or particular medically prescribed medications.
What DDS Looks & Feels Like
When a heavy drinker starts to become addicted/dependant on drinking alcohol, their brain changes both physically and chemically. You can learn more about the science behind addiction here.
When an addict quits drinking, their brain must again, adjust to the damage that alcohol has caused throughout their body. This process can last for weeks, months, sometimes even years.
The longer an addicts remains sober/abstinent, the easier and less intense cravings or urges to drink will become until they are only brief flitting thoughts that come and go within seconds or minutes.
What Are The Most Common Signs & Symptoms Of PAWS?
In order to minimise the risk of relapse, it’s important to recognise that many of the unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations and feelings you experience in early recovery could be signs and symptoms of PAWS. It’s also important to understand that PAWS symptoms are temporary. Here are some of the most common symptoms:
- Foggy thinking/trouble remembering
- Urges, cravings & temptations
- Irritability, agitation or hostility
- Sleep disturbances—insomnia or vivid dreams
- Issues with fine motor coordination and delicate tasks
- Stress sensitivity
- Anxiety or panic
- Lack of initiative or motivation
- Impaired ability to focus on more delicate tasks
- Mood swings
- Thoughts of suicide or self harm
IF YOU EXPERIENCE THOUGHTS OR FEELINGS OF SUICIDE OR SELF HARM, CALL 116 123 FOR FREE FROM ALL UK MOBILES & LANDLINES OPEN 24/7, 365 DAYS OF THE YEAR.
If you experience these feelings on more than one occasion or regularly, it’s important to speak to your Doctor or GP for further help and support.
If you are not in the UK, you can use a search engine to find other charities or organisations that can provide immediate help. It’s important that if you do experience these thoughts or feelings, that you contact someone immediately and do not suffer alone as help and support is there for you to feel better!
Can Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Be Avoided?
While avoidance of post-acute withdrawal syndrome isn’t possible, you can effectively manage your symptoms. By learning to successfully manage post-acute and acute withdrawal symptoms, you will feel better physically and emotionally, improve your self-esteem and reduce the risk of relapse.
A person dealing with side effects of PAWS actually may look like he’s intoxicated even though he’s been totally abstinent (which explains where the term “dry drunk” comes from).
Emotionally, a person dealing with PAWS may have mood swings and become depressed, making him tough to be around, maybe even as unpleasant as they might have been when they were drinking.
Alcohol used to provide temporary relief from such feelings, but now they can’t rely on that anymore.
Mental Symptoms Of PAWS
Dry drunk syndrome doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, the following symptoms can develop slowly over time, especially during the first year of recovery.
- Self-centered or superior attitude (in 12-step circles, this is known as “terminal uniqueness)
- Poor impulse control
- Sour, impatient, or complacent in your recovery
- Anger and negativity about recovery
- Resentment toward loved ones
- Isolating yourself from your support network
- Increasing anxiety and depression
- Fear of relapse
- Jealousy of sober friends or those not dealing with addiction
- Romanticising about prior drinking
- Cross-addiction or abuse of other behavioural addictions such as sex, food, internet use, gambling, shopping ect
Coping With Dry Drunk Syndrome
Recovery from an alcohol use disorder (AUD) means more than simply quitting alcohol. Even after you no longer crave alcohol, you need to deal with the psychological and behavioural issues that contributed and lead you to your addiction in the first place in order to prevent relapse.
You may still be dealing with the stages of denial, anger, bargaining and depression before finally reaching the point of accepting the absence of alcohol in your life.
Some people truly experience sobriety as a kind of death and have to accept the loss and learn and grow from the experience before they can move on. You can learn more about “grieving” for the loss of your addiction in our article here.
Dry drunk syndrome interferes with this process and although challenging, with the right support, it’s not insurmountable. You may greatly benefit from the encouragement you can find at a support group meeting like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Cocaine Anonymous (CA).
You can also find contact information for a wide variety of groups, charities and organisations who can help you overcome your addiction by visiting our help and support page here.
There are also a few steps you can take on your own to start enjoying your new sober life as you work toward a happy, lasting recovery. They may seem simple and unsurprising, but they do work for many people.
Find A Hobby Or Interest
Take up gardening, start collecting an item you’re truly interested in or fascinated by, learn how to build things, volunteer, join a club with others who have the same interest in something or focus on the creative project. The goal is to fill the time you once spent drinking with activities that are enjoyable and engrossing.
There’s no question years of drinking can take a toll on the body. A big part of recovery and your newfound sober life is making your physical health a priority.
Try healthful recipes, join a gym, take up a sport, try yoga or other mindfulness techniques (which can have mental benefits as well as physical ones). If you love dogs and don’t have one, this is a great time to adopt a stray or volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter.
Try Something New
Now that you’re no longer drinking, you have a chance to embrace your sober life and redefine your passions. Now is the time to pursue those things you’ve always wanted to learn or start ticking things off of your bucket list. If you don’t have one already, now is the perfect opportunity!
Audit a class at a local university or college, or commit to reading every book you can get your hands on about a topic you’re interested in. Whatever interests you.
Lean On Your Loved Ones
No one expects you to recover from an alcohol use disorder alone—nor should you. Even the people who you alienated before you quit drinking may welcome the opportunity to spend time with you when they see that you’re trying and making an effort to change.
Ask your partner out for regular date nights, get more involved with your grandkids, find fun activities to do with friends that don’t involve drinking., the list goes on and on…
In a previous article, we discussed ways that friends or loved ones can support addicts without enabling their addiction or addictive behaviours. You can read the article by clicking here.
A Word From Drink ‘n’ Drugs
The best way to prevent and/or cope with the physical and mental symptoms of dry drunk syndrome is to stay steadfast in your recovery.
Now isn’t the time to isolate yourself or become complacent in your sobriety, but to surround yourself with family, friends and professionals who can support you as you work to build a sober and fulfilling life for yourself. You can find contact information for a wide range of groups, charities and organisations who can help you overcome your addiction. You can find contact information for them on our help and support page here.
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