Dry Drunk Syndrome & Understanding White Knuckle Sobriety

Have you ever been driving in a severe storm? You slow down and focus your attention on safety. You no longer hear the radio and conversations among passengers. You do feel pain in your hands, though. The pain is from the tight grip you have on your steering wheel. It’s so tight your knuckles are white. White knuckles represent many of life’s challenges, including early recovery from an alcohol use disorder. White knuckle sobriety describes millions of people who have tried to quit drinking alcohol all by themselves, blaming themselves for not having enough willpower to succeed.

To overcome addiction, you must change your whole life. No longer drinking is just one step in the process of getting sober. If you don’t change all areas of your life, you will live your old lifestyle without alcohol to help you cope with ups and downs. This is called a dry drunk syndrome, which harms your life. 

White Knuckle Sobriety vs. Recovery

Being abstinent from alcohol does not mean you are in full recovery. Abstinence is not consuming alcohol. Recovery is all the other work for maintaining abstinence, such as learning new skills and gaining support. Recovery involves the activities that make it easier for you to avoid drinking alcohol.

Without recovery, avoiding relapse is more challenging. You feel like you are hanging on by a thread. Every day is a struggle not to drink alcohol. If you aren’t working to improve your life, the things that made you drink in the first place are still a problem in your life. They are temptations you must try to resist each day. They cause the white-knuckle effect.

Dry Drunk Syndrome

Dry drunk syndrome is another way of describing the white-knuckle syndrome. It’s a term used in Alcoholics Anonymous by many people who understand precisely what it feels like to be a dry drunk. Although they weren’t drinking alcohol, they were not receiving the necessary treatment to make their recovery a reality. Eventually, they relapsed. A dry drunk is often a part of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome 

When you stop drinking alcohol, you will experience withdrawal symptoms the first week. However, it can take a long time for your brain to heal. Lingering withdrawal symptoms persist after the first week, including cravings and other psychological or emotional symptoms. If you try to cope with PAWS without learning practical coping skills, you will likely experience one or more of the following:

  • Increase in anxiety and panic.
  • Increase in depression.
  • Decrease in quality sleep.
  • Increase in brain fog.
  • Decrease in motivation.
  • Increase in anger, agitation, and lashing out at others.
  • Decrease in libido.
  • Increase in chronic pain.

These symptoms are like those found with the dry drunk syndrome.

Signs of Dry Drunk Syndrome

Many of the attitudes and behaviors a person had before they stopped drinking are the same after they stop. The only thing that changes is that alcohol is no longer in the picture. Typical signs associated with the dry drunk syndrome include the following:

  • Having mood swings and trouble regulating emotions.
  • Getting defensive and irritated easily.
  • Playing the victim role and seeking pity from others.
  • Behaving impulsively.
  • Telling lies, even about things that are not important.
  • Lacking patience, organization, and good decision-making skills.
  • Needing to be the center of attention.
  • Deflecting blame.
  • Taking out anger and resentment on loved ones.
  • Feeling disappointed in the sober life.
  • Overreacting emotionally.

Research suggests 90% of people recovering from opioids experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

What Causes of White Knuckles, Dry Drunk, and Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndromes?

Alcohol and drugs alter the chemistry in the brain. The brain’s structure is changed, and it becomes dependent on substances. When you stop using substances, your brain doesn’t go back to “normal” right away. It may not go back to your pre-addiction brain at all, but it can heal and recover from the damage caused by alcohol and drugs.

Without treatment, you only have the negative perspective of addiction and recovery. You get stuck in the emotions, hardships, and traumas of the past. This makes it impossible to see the upsides and positive aspects of recovery. Therefore, that is what you focus on the most. 

How to Overcome White Knuckle and Dry Drunk Syndrome

Overcoming white knuckle and dry drunk syndrome can be done. There are specific actions proven to make recovery much more manageable, change your perspective, and give you the ability to be happy without alcohol. They are easy to implement, so easy you can start them today.

  1. Recognize and admit you are struggling and white-knuckling or have the dry drunk syndrome.
  2. Seek treatment from a licensed mental health and substance use provider. Entering treatment will help you cope with co-occurring disorders, process past trauma, learn healthy coping skills, and engage in recovery activities. You will also meet others going through similar struggles and have opportunities with your family therapy to heal and grow.
  3. Attend support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous and 12 Steps.
  4. Stay in some form of recovery treatment for an extended period. Think of the various forms of treatment as a layer of protection between you and a relapse. The more treatment or layers you have, the more protected you are.
  5. Set goals and create plans to accomplish your goals. Winging it will lead to disorganization, confusion, and negative emotions. With a plan of action, you know exactly what to do. Create a plan for aftercare, career, education, personal relationships, and preventing relapse.
  6. Practice self-care by making yourself a priority.
  7. Seek happiness. Go out and have fun, meet new people, start new hobbies, and find ways to make yourself happy. Don’t wait around, hoping something good will happen to you.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not expected to do this alone. We are here for you and eager to help you start your recovery journey. Give us a call today.


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