Addiction of any type is a serious problem. However, effective treatment requires more than “just stopping” the use of drugs or alcohol. The reality is that when someone “just stops” their addiction, many of the behaviors that “got them into trouble” are “still active.” This “dry drunk” lifestyle is still addictive, even though they may have stopped drinking or using drugs. They are addicted to activities and avoiding real intimacy in their relationships by being unavailable to their partner and the family.
A “dry drunk” is a person who has not really changed, or grown, beyond where they were “stuck emotionally before.” They are addicted to being emotionally disconnected from others. While they no longer use addictive substances like alcohol or marijuana, they frantically push other people away from being emotionally close. Just stopping the addiction itself is never fully enough, even though many people think that they have “licked the problem.”
Even though they may have “stopped drinking or using,” the behaviors that resulted during those years of chemical abuse may continue – even when the person is completely sober. What they don’t see is that the dry drunk’s new behaviors are similar to the addictive behavior of the past – just without the use of chemicals.
Other people may not see this reality. Instead, they see the dry drunk person as a “wonderful person” who is always busy and helping others. What they don’t see is that the dry drunk is never truly emotionally vulnerable or close to others. They use other behaviors or activities as a way to keep others at a distance.
For a dry drunk, everything can become a crisis. They are always running around to put out fires, solve problems, fix things, and “running late to everything.” In this way they can avoid really dealing with themselves and the real issues that need solving.
What happens is that “the years of misuse” change everything. It becomes critical for the person to understand that
“Dry Drunk behaviors” include, but are not limited to:
- The need to control (and a deep fear of loss of control)
- Reactiveness and “quick upsets”
- Relationship difficulties
- Excessive behaviors
There is also a panic when one feels out of control over anything, over others, over situations, over life, that then drives the person to try whatever they can to control in an effort to reduce their internal tensions and insecurities.
Abuse and Addictive Behaviors
Human beings can be influenced by several issues which all tend to reinforce and lead to excessive dependence on chemicals of any type. Always being busy is also a form of addiction to an internal chemical of excitement and activity.
- Many people have a “genetic connection” to being prone to addictive behaviors. This usually means that there has been a family genetic history of addictions from one generation to another.
- Friends who drink, or use drugs, may “reinforce and push” one’s continuing misuse of chemicals–social pressures to be the same.
- Cultural messages, including the one where “men must be strong,” and how “men can handle their own problems,” etc., can influence how one approaches the use of chemicals.
- Our need for “quick solutions” pushes many people to “do something” whenever they feel tensions, anxiety, frustrations, pain and suffering of any type. This can lead to the desire to “put something in the mouth to bring relief quickly” mentality. The person is impulsive and acts without thinking many times.
- The human need for “denial” gets in the way of taking a serious look at what is happening. We believe that we can handle things and that we don’t have a problem when we actually do.
- There are “socially approved chemicals” that can complicate the situation – including marijuana and synthetic opioids (like kratom) and prescription medications. It is common for those who have been addicts to alcohol or drugs to quickly be “hooked” on other medications. These chemicals “block awareness” of one’s increasing dependence on them to function. This “chemical denial” can be very strong and “cloud” one’s understanding of what is happening.
- The belief that “I can stop whenever I want” blocks one from a full realization that one has a problem.
- Insecurities, past emotional conflicts and fears, continue to block the acceptance of trusting others for help.
- The fear of being out of control makes one struggle to control everything and others, to be jealous, suspicious, and to feel that if we let go others will leave us.
Developmental Personality Delays
A critical element in understanding the struggles that the alcoholic, or drug addicted person, goes through relates to the concept of, “When did the person first start using chemicals.” For example, of the person, now age 40, started using chemicals at the age of 13, the usual types of personality development that happens in the teenage years was “blocked” by the chemicals.
This is one of the reasons that after sobering up the person seems to be functioning as though they were struggling with the issues of teenage years–the developmental struggles of “Independence vs Dependence,” and “Role Identity vs Confusion.” These are key identity issues that need to be resolved prior to entering adulthood.
Chemical use changes everything. The person cannot respond to the usual challenges that happen at the different stages of development. For this reason, treatment has to address these issues and to focus on helping the person “work through” these various issues.
We all developed “habit patterns” that over time become “specific behaviors” which define us as individuals. Our behaviors are also shaped by our environment, our families, our parents, our siblings, our friends, and by societal expectations and pressures.
Behavioral patterns are automatic and happen without our even being aware that we are doing them. Some behavioral patterns are helpful and others are destructive. Some behavioral patterns are conscious and others are unconscious – beyond our awareness. These behavioral patterns define us in the world.
However, behavioral patterns under the influence of chemicals – even prescription ones – can be different from those patterns the person has off the drugs. It is always interesting to talk to a person two weeks after they have detoxified off any chemicals – they are different people. One may have thought they were talking to “that person” but two weeks after detox “the person is much different.” At the same time, the behaviors that lead us to use, and abuse, chemicals, do tend to continue even when one is off the drugs.
- Real solutions requires honestly, risking, allowing oneself to be vulnerable, and admitting the need for help well beyond having “stopped.”
- It is “letting go” of being “defensive” and “needing to know everything.”
- It is “risking to reach out for help” and “doing whatever it is going to take to make changes.
- It is “letting go of one’s pride” and knowing that one has to “heal” by reaching out for help and asking for help in making “real life changes.”
- It is knowing that any change is going to take time and hard work over time.
- It is admitting that one’s behaviors are “still getting in the way of living a real intimate full life.”
- It is “doing whatever it is going to take” – several things – in order to be sure that something really happens.
- It is stopping the “blame” while looking for whatever it is going to take to find solutions.
- It is making changes in several areas of one’s life.
- It is admitting that one needs to focus on psychological therapy, addiction therapy, family therapy, and for some the need for detoxification from prescription drugs before any of these other treatments can be of any help.
- It is stopping the search for “one solution.” It is focusing on doing the “hard work” to find the real solutions – not just looking good.
- It is realizing that others will “judge you by your behaviors, not your words.”
- Others have to stop helping and enabling you–understanding your issues and problems–and doing the work to find you help.
- It is learning to deal with the setbacks and relapses, the problems and difficulties, that happen along the way with a focus on “making it happen.”
- It is “having a future focus” and learning to make real decisions that have a future focus.
- It is admitting that dry drunk addictive behaviors have been used to avoid real intimacy in relationships by being so busy that one has no time to focus on real closeness.
This is only an introduction to the issue of “a dry drunk.” It is designed to start one thinking. One has to learn much more about “the disease of chemical abuse and addiction.” An addiction is a “compulsion and drive” to do an activity, and to maintain the “sameness,” of the situation, even in the midst of knowing that what one is doing is “not right,” and causing more troubles in the long run. However, the person is addicted to quick solutions, quick emotions, panic dramatic responses, and “stuck in denial of the reality of their lives.”