The Dry-Drunk Syndrome

For those of us in the addiction field or in recovery, we are familiar with the term “dry drunk” but some of us who are just beginning to learn about addiction and alcoholism may not be.  Earnie Larsen was a nationally known author and lecturer in the Recovery & Addiction field and originator of the Stage II™ Recovery process. Along the road of recovery, Earnie’s signposts have connected the dots to show us where we started as a human being, how to take our recovery as deep as the damage, and along the way how to achieve joy and abundance.  At the end of September, 2010 Earnie was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer.  He peacefully passed away on Tuesday, January 11, 2011.

Here is an excerpt from his book, “Stage II Recovery- Life Beyond Addiction” that addresses the dry-drunk syndrome.

husband wife prayingAs hateful as this label is to so many people, it names a real condition that occurs when a person breaks a primary addiction (gets sober) but doesn’t deal with the underlying living problems.  “Dry drunks” can afflict people in all Twelve Step programs who have broken a primary addiction (Stage I) but have not gotten further into recovery (Stage II).  Victims of dry drunks have made a First Step relative to their addiction, but have not made a First Step relative to the living problems that underlie all addictions and ultimately limit their ability to function in loving relationships.

The salient question is “Why did we have all that pain in the first place?”  Right here, we are eyeball to eyeball with the dry-drunk syndrome.

The medical model offers a useful example.  Say that a patient is lying in a hospital bed suffering from a painful disease.  To alleviate this pain, the doctor prescribes large doses of a painkiller.  As long as the pain medication keeps coming, the patient has no pain.  But what happens when the medication is taken away?  The patient has a lot of pain.

We all use our addictions as painkillers.  We do what we do because we are trying not to hurt.  Perhaps at the beginning we were just curious or looking for a little pleasure.  But as the process slipped from use to abuse to dependency, the addiction continued because it medicated the pain, not because it was interesting or fun.  The lie at work in all addictions is that continued use will get rid of the hurt.  The truth is, it never does.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re addicted to alcohol, overeating, certain kinds of people, or gambling.  What do we have when we take away the object of addiction?  A lot of pain.

If you haven’t dealt with your underlying living problems in any focused, consistent manner, pain, pure and simple, will keep you subject to the dry-drunk syndrome.  In this condition, “I’m sober – when do I get happy?” is the kind of heartbreaking question so often asked.  But the answer follows a different question:  When does real relief come for the suffering hospital patient?  Not when the painkiller goes away, but when the disease goes away.  A true alcoholic can never drink again;  the disease can only be arrested.  But the living problems underlying our addictions can be cured – if only we understand that dealing with those issues is where recovery takes place.

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