It would be nice if there were only two conditions for the alcoholic: active alcoholic and “recovered” alcoholic. However, it seems these are merely two ends of a continuum, with a third state I like to call “the gray zone.” The gray zone can seem safe and mimic real recovery, but at a certain point there’s a tendency to slide back towards untreated alcoholism. This is when we see the condition known as a “dry drunk.”
A dry drunk is exactly what it sounds like: behavior usually associated with active drinking begins to show even in the absence of alcohol. Emotional outbursts, anger, self-pity, a tendency to blame others for one’s problems, and an unwillingness to acknowledge these tendencies all become dominant during a dry drunk, and the entire cluster of symptoms often takes the dry alcoholic back to active alcoholism.
Because alcohol is a symptom of an underlying disorder, the solution for alcoholism requires an examination and understanding of the causes and conditions of the disorder, and a willingness to change attitudes and behaviors associated with it. Whether through Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or the program of Alcoholics Anonymous or other current recovery modalities, the alcoholic finds that alcohol loses its grip and becomes less and less appealing as a solution because the underlying problem has been solved.
Recovery from alcoholism requires maintenance. A dry drunk is usually the result when the recovering alcoholic stops doing the things that facilitate recovery. If a person with diabetes stops taking insulin, their diabetic condition will return. Similarly, if a person stops taking care of their teeth by brushing and flossing, an oral hygiene problem will eventually occur. The simple logic of the necessity for maintenance escapes many recovering alcoholics and is probably the single greatest contributor to relapse.