Do you think it’s possible to be “drunk” without having anything to drink? My husband gets into moods that remind me of what he was like when he used to drink, even though he no longer consumes alcohol. Can you help me understand this?

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What you describe is common and is called being a “dry drunk.”

The slang term “dry drunk” is said to have originated from people involved in the 12-Step Recovery program. It describes those who no longer drink or use drugs but behave in the dysfunctional ways they did when they were drinking/using. Dry drunks often are still filled with resentment and anger, are unable to deal with their emotions effectively, and treat their mate and family in the same harmful ways.

Addicts used their substance of choice to alleviate emotional and physical pain. If they stop using their preferred substance but fail to enter into and remain in a recovery process, they continue to deal with their pain in dysfunctional ways — primarily by acting  out.

Some common symptoms of a dry drunk include, but are not limited to: resentment, irritability, and anger; limited ability to deal with stress; poor relationship skills/emotional abuse; denial of responsibility for problems; blaming others for problems; and distorted thinking.

Fortunately, there is hope for your husband — if he takes action. He must recognize he’s still in emotional trouble and desperately needs recovery. He must be committed to a recovery process that includes emotional/spiritual growth. I call this process emotional sobriety.

Emotional sobriety — the practice of thinking clearly, relating effectively, and enjoying emotional balance — is not something only attained by those recovering from drug or alcohol abuse. Scripture tells us: “Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought before you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming” (1 Peter 1:13).

Here are some additional steps your husband should take to achieve emotional sobriety in his life:

Establish a recovery process. Like any helpful routine, which might include an exercise regimen, healthy eating, and spiritual practices, recovery is something that needs to be established as a normal part of life. Since your husband has had an addiction, going to 12 Step meetings or some other recovery process is critical. Once attendance is established, your husband will begin to replace negative thinking patterns with healthy ones.

Maintain his recovery process. Once your husband has established a recovery process, encourage him to maintain it. Recovery needs to be part of his daily and weekly practice. Help your spouse weave it into his life and ensure it’s not crowded out by other important aspects of living.

Be alert for lapses in progress. Lapses can and will happen. Be alert for them. Know what dry drunk behavior looks like in your husband. Know what unhealthy thinking is and what it looks like. On the other hand, be fully apprised of what healthy, emotional sobriety looks like and how it should be practiced.

Establish support and accountability. Your husband needs others in his life who will ensure he’s practicing emotional sobriety. He needs others to make sure he’s handling problems effectively, relating to others — including you — in healthy ways, and enjoying emotional balance. Help him build those people into his life.

Practice emotional sobriety in small and large ways. Emotional sobriety is not simply the absence of emotional outbursts, irrational moods, or mood swings. It is practicing “sober thinking” every day. It is a daily practice that encourages hope and healthy relationships. It touches every part of your lives.

In summary, stopping an addiction is challenging; living a sober life is even more challenging. Encourage your spouse to be candid with you about whether he’s really living a sober life filled with life-giving practices.

If you would like more information on emotional sobriety, I’d like to hear from you. Contact me at drdavid@marriagerecoverycenter.com. I encourage you to read about our programs at www.marriagerecoverycenter.com.

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