A dry drunk often quits drinking or drugging on his own without undergoing residential treatment, receiving counseling from a substance abuse professional, or getting help from Alcoholics Anonymous or some similar program that uses peer support. Although he is no longer drinking or abusing drugs, he has not replaced his old habit with something positive. He has lost the usual way he copes with anger, disappointment , and other negative emotions, so he may become sullen or morose, moody, and prone to angry outbursts. He may be irritable, restless, judgmental, and extremely hard to live with. He "flies off the handle" all the time because he lost his means of coping with stress and overreacts to normal everyday situations. His partner, children and the other people close to him may long for the days when he was drinking. They typically say things like, "When he was drinking, I knew how to handle him. He was predictable. Now everything I do or say is wrong."
According to a recent article in Psychology Today, the dry drunk may also be display these reaction and personality traits because stopping drinking or drugging has brought up many psychological issues too uncomfortable to face. She may realize, for example, the amount of harm her addiction has caused her family. Or she now understands that her addiction has caused her to have no family or real friends. She may be overwhelmed by the regret she feels over how many years she lost through drinking and all the opportunities she missed in her career. These feelings make her jealous of other people who do have successful careers and family lives, and she may lash out at family members and friends who have achieved. She may have a tremendous fear of failure if she does try to set new goals, or she may simply not know how to have dreams and achievable ambitions for her life. During the years she was drinking or drugging, she did not grow as a person and has not developed the skills and maturity to handle life.
Some dry drunks go through a mourning process for their alcohol or drugs. They may romanticize how much fun and excitement they used to have when they were drinking. They miss their old friends and the bar scene, and they don't know how to have fun or enjoy their lives without alcohol or drugs. They can be frustrated about their inability to drink or use drugs in moderation.
All these issues -- learning to cope with stress, setting goals, improving communication and relationships, developing new hobbies and interests-- are the ones that should have been addressed in residential treatment and professional psychotherapy.
In the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, including their famous "Blue Book," the phenomenon of the dry drunk is mentioned many times. People can be members of the group for years and yet not work their way through the 12-step program. They are not drinking, but they still have the mindsets of an alcoholic. According to the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous, their dry drunk members are at extremely high risk of drinking again.