This term is one of my favorites. “Dry drunk” was originally used to describe the acute withdrawal symptoms some alcoholics acquire upon quitting the sauce. It was taken and bastardized by AA to pejoratively describe a person who may have quit drinking, but is not really in recovery because they are not using the steps, and is therefore not “really in recovery”.

Let’s go over a typical circle jerk that a newcomer to AA goes through, and how use of the term “dry drunk” is used to manipulate them:

Remember, the new recruit is “the most important person in the room”, and on day one they are showered with all kinds of attention. Also on day one, they are likely to question some of the crazy rituals and dogma that they hear, so the standard line to them is “take what you want, and leave the rest”. If they don’t like the idea of higher powers or moral inventories or any aspect of the steps, they are told that they don’t have to involve themselves. Ask any anyone currently brainwashed and still within the cult, and you will be told something to the effect that they “encourage the steps”, or “these are just suggestions”.

How do they suggest these things? Let’s take a look now. The following is from an actual, real life dialog in this AA online forum. A question is asked of the “expert moderator” – “What is a Dry Drunk?” Here is his response:

“I’d say dry drunks are alcoholics who — although they remain ‘dry’ (don’t drink) — are still prey to many or most (or all) of the reactions and behaviors they characterized their lives when they did drink: being fearful, suspicious, manipulative and/or dishonest toward themselves and others. They not only usually have a hard time staying “dry” but enjoying life.
Dry drunks begin to recover when they’re able to embrace the AA acronym H-O-W — honesty, openness, willingness. The Twelve Steps exist to help the alcoholic “recover” these capacities and attitudes — very much “one step at a time.” While stopping drinking is the necessary first step in recovery, it really only opens the door to the full experience of it.”

This is the old bait and switch. He says tells the person who was almost certainly told “take what you want, and leave the rest” that if you simply quit drinking and go to meetings, you are not really in recovery. Although quitting drinking is a first step, it “really only opens the door” to the full experience of recovery. They must work the steps. This is actually fairly benign. Here is another response:

“A dry drunk is someone who puts the booze down, and doesn’t change the person on the inside, the person who drank.
Many people believe that AA is about “not drinking” and that is only the first step. The rest of the steps are about learning to live life on life’s terms and taking an honest look at the real problem….. me .

When I first came into AA, I believed that not drinking was enough. I was so happy to be able to not drink for the first time in years, that I was floating on a cloud for the first 3 months of sobriety. And then REALITY set in. See the person that I brought through those doors of AA was selfish, self-seeking, self-centered, full of self-pity, resentments and angry to the max. I blamed people, places and things for many many years for where I was at, and what I chose to do or not do….

I would simply ask you Karen…… what do you have to lose by taking the suggestions, getting a sponsor and beginning the 12 Steps? Its been my experience that being a dry drunk is progressive,…….. and thank God so is recovery.

AA is not about just not drinking, its about learning to live life, really live life one day at a time.”

This poor woman is the full deal, and sounds as though she came directly out of a cult training video – “the person that I brought through those doors of AA was selfish, self-seeking, self-centered, full of self-pity, resentments and angry to the max.” Now she is all better, thanks to AA. She doesn’t say “before AA I was addicted to alcohol, and now I’m not”. She says “before AA, I was a flawed person, and now I’m not”. Then she goes on to tighten the screws on the woman who asked this question – “what do you have to lose by taking the suggestions, getting a sponsor and beginning the 12 Steps? Its been my experience that being a dry drunk is progressive…and thank God so is recovery…AA is not about just not drinking, it s about learning to live life, really live life one day at a time.”

Here is another example from another actual AA forum. This person actually found a description of what a dry drunk actually is, and quoted a description for the other AA members to comment on, but they had never heard before what a dry drunk really is, and it gets totally lost on them. She quotes the real description here:

“A very serious Post Acute Withdrawal problem – though perhaps not as common as the others – is difficulty with physical coordination. Common symptoms are dizziness, trouble with balance, problems with coordination between hand and eye, and slow reflexes. These result in clumsiness and accident proneness. This is how the term “dry drunk” came into being. When alcoholics appeared drunk because of stumbling and clumsiness, but had not been drinking, they were said to be “dry drunk.” They had the appearance of being intoxicated without drinking.”

And goes on to say….

“From what I’ve read on DS (I never heard the term dry drunk before) ‘dry drunk’ means more than this.

But aren’t we being too hard on those who achieve sobriety without changing ALL their thought processes/attitudes etc.?

And has there been any ‘control’ tests regarding the 12 steps? I mean if you just did the whole reparation element of it, would it work? Are we sure it is the whole package that works or just certain bits of it?”

She asks if it is the whole package that works or just “certain bits”, ie, “take what you want and leave the rest”. Here are the responses:

“a dry drunk for the purposes of AA is someone who is sober but is iritable restless and discontented. Sober but no steps no solution a miserable person who still plays god in all his or her affairs. I have no idea what you are refering too dotty.”

So, according this AAer, a person who does not work the steps has all of these horrible character flaws. To hell with the fact that they quit drinking. That is not the objective. The objective is to change the person to the beliefs of the group.

Here is the next response:

“I always thought that a dry drunk was some one that quit drinking but failed to address the spiritual aspect of acheiving sobriety. I know a few dry drunks….the drinking stopped but all the character and spiritual defects remained. AKA white knuckling it…They can run all the “contoll tests” they want. Until a person admits to themselves and another human being and finds a higher power of their understanding and to give their defects to Him….Its a huge load to carry. AA works for me. I sit in a room full of people that I probably wouldnt of partied with when I was “out there” and share things about myself that I wouldnt even tell my dog….and they do the same.. We have at least one thing in common…An honest desire to not drink. I dont know my purpose in life and I thank God for that because I would probably screw it up if I knew….People share in aa meetings and God talks thru them.”

This AAer has essentially the same description, and then adds “people share in AA meetings, and God talks through them”. This is common, and now you have a newbie was told “take what you want and leave the rest” and “it’s spiritual, not religious”, replaced with “if you don’t work all the step you are morally depraved” and “God talks to us”.

The next response is the same:

“dry drunk is a drunk who just doesn’t drink but possesses all the appalling characteristics of the drunk who DOES drink. what do you get when you sober up a horse thief? a sober horse thief. being sober and being in recovery are two completely different entities. in recovery, i no longer con, steal, lie, cheat, manipulate etc. i have truly become a contributing member of the world at large.”

Now the woman who posed the original question is saying that she is happy when she is sober. Simply quitting drinking makes her happy. Below she asks, “so what ‘appalling characteristics’ persist when the drunk is sober?” she asked. She is being manipulated by the group into believing that she is broken and needs to be fixed:

So what ‘appalling characteristics’ persist when the drunk is sober?

For me there is the pain of stuff that happened to me in childhood. The pain of how I have messed things up. The pain of selfishness inflicted on others. But most if not all of these problems seem to disappear when I am sober!

Is this ‘you are completely ****ed’ attitude necessary? I mean that as a genuine question not antagonistically.

Since going to AA it has stirred up so much negative emotions that although I have had the longest sober periods, my drinking has also become more secretive and I appear to be MORE ‘in denial’. I’m not blaming anyone else, and maybe this is the first hill to climb, but it makes you think … especially when I think of all the binge drinking that AA can, possibly, induce. IMHO.”

The next person tightened the screws just a little bit more:

“I was very ill after I stopped drinking as my attitude and outlook to life were all wrong – I was still selfish, self centred, fearful and resentful and unable to live happily or productively.

A couple of months after I stopped drinking, without working any recovery program, I was being admitted to a mental hospital. I hadnt had a drink but I was very unwell and unable to cope with life.

This only changed for me when I worked the 12 Step program.

Now this new recruit finally begins to buckle, and acquiesce to the cult tactics:

“Maybe I am just on that knife edge – I realise my problems and the main one is drink, but I using to ‘dull out’ other problems for so long I’m scared of dealing with those. Maybe.”

So, what do we learn? Well, you can take what you want and and leave the rest, but if you don’t do everything, you are morally bankrupt. They are suggestions, but if you don’t do them you are lower than whale shit, and you are not really sober.

This is online, but it is real, and it is typical. I’ve seen it done a thousand times, and much more effective live and in person.