A great post by our friend and Addiction Chaplain Ned Wicker:
Dry Drunk: Dry But Still Drunk.
My friend Joe Herzanek wrote a terrific book, “Why Don’t They Just Quit” which is a fitting title because that’s the question people always ask. If somebody drinks, why don’t they just quit? The short answer is simply that’s it’s not that easy. Just because they do quit doesn’t mean they’re not a drunk.
Before you get all riled up and offended understand one important point—just because somebody isn’t using doesn’t mean they are not an addict. People who abstain from using alcohol for long periods of time, people who have been diagnosed as being alcoholics, may be dry, but they are still alcoholics (dry drunk). All of the pieces are in place for their lives to go out of control; it’s just that the triggering element, alcohol, is missing. That is why Alcoholics Anonymous strongly advocates for abstinence. Even people who have been in recovery for years understand that all it takes is alcohol for them to be right back on a destructive path.
Over the years I have known many people who have gone through the criminal justice system and served time for DUI. The police arrest them, the judge convicts them and they spend time behind bars. However, while in jail they do not receive treatment. Yes, they are dry, but that only lasts while they are physically prevented from getting a drink. They are still addicts, but they just aren’t using the drug alcohol at the time. Jason comes to mind. He was serving after being convicted yet again of DUI, but like his first time, he was receiving no treatment. There was a program, but a waiting list to get into it was a mile long. Jason got an early release and never did get into treatment. He was a dry drunk. The first opportunity that came along was all he needed to get a snoot full.
Recovery programs are not just limited to going to meetings and not drinking. They are about the rebuilding of one’s life and learning new skills and habits. People who have honestly and openly journeyed through the 12 Step process understand that recovery is about a return to wholeness. People are transformed from drunks, to dry drunks, to recovering drunks. I do not use the term drunks in the pejorative, but instead use it intentionally to illustrate an important point. No matter the addiction, no matter the human condition, just because one is not directly engaged in an activity does not exempt them from potential danger. What is needed to prevent relapse is a change of lifestyle and a commitment to healthy activity.
It wasn’t long after Jason was released that he was in trouble with the law for another DUI. This time the judge wasn’t at all understanding and the sentence was for four years or so. He was back on the waiting list for treatment, but with more time, he finally got in. He was given the opportunity to go from dry drunk to “recovering.” As he learned new ways of dealing with his life, with his cravings and with his out of control lifestyle, he began to realize that, like millions of others, he was in need of help and could get into recovery with the right kind of support and guidance.
It was a major turning point for him. He was not longer the “victim” of the criminal justice system, but a grateful recipient of treatment for his illness. Unlike others who were going through a prison 12 Step program to earn brownie points with the parole board, Jason was earnestly and actively working the program for its long-term benefits. He wasn’t merely going through the motions. When he was released, he continued his recovery program on the outside, this time with a new sense of purpose and direction. He was no longer a dry drunk.
Abstinence is good, but abstinence along does not get the alcoholic out of the woods. You can lock them up and deny them alcohol, but they are still drunks. Treatment and the right kind of support program is what makes the difference. Jason knows that difference.
From “Dry But Still Drunk.” to Changing Lives Foundation Blog Home
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