People have been calling Brett Kavanaugh a 'dry drunk.' What does that mean?

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  • Brett Kavanaugh
    Brett Kavanaugh
    Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States
Brett Kavanaugh
Brett Kavanaugh (Photo: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AP)

People are still talking about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s intense testimony last week over allegations that he sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford when they were both teenagers. One description of Kavanaugh that has come up repeatedly on social media is ‘dry drunk.’

“Dry drunk” isn’t a phrase made up by the Twitterverse. It’s a term that was first coined by the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s important to recognize that dry drunk syndrome is an actual psychological phenomenon, American Addiction Centers says, and it can happen to anyone who is struggling with addiction.

Dry drunk syndrome describes “a constellation of symptoms that occur after someone stops abusing alcohol yet still exhibits the majority of the maladaptive behaviors that are associated with alcohol abuse disorder and alcohol dependency,” addiction specialist Neeraj Gandotra, MD, chief medical officer at Delphi Behavioral Health Group, tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

Those symptoms include “very poor frustration tolerance, impulsivity, and the inability to appropriately weigh the consequences of their decisions,” Gandotra says. “Also, there are some very strong personality components that become more greatly exhibited such as feelings of superiority, very little tolerance of frustration or concession to others. They tend to be even more angry once they’ve stopped drinking.”

This describes more people than you might think. “Only a minority of people with alcohol abuse disorder and alcohol dependency who are successful in stopping drinking and who haven’t engaged in therapy would be able to avoid this set of symptoms in dry drunk syndrome,” Gandotra says. “It’s more likely that, if they’re not in therapy, these are the things they’re going to exhibit.”

Dry drunks “do value the fact that they’re sober, which is a strong component and it is worth reinforcing,” Gandotra says. “However, the majority of people may exhibit the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome but feel that they’re OK because they’re not drinking.”

Dry drunk syndrome is treatable with therapy “where people can evaluate their behaviors in conjunction to their thoughts,” Gandotra says. “Undergoing a 12-step program where a person is in a group setting can also be helpful,” he says.

But dry drunk syndrome could go on for a long time if it’s left unchecked. Ultimately, “people don’t change unless pressure is applied, either external or internal,” Gandotra says. “The idea that they could fix this on their own would require a great deal of pressure from self-reflection and insight, which is very hard to achieve if you’re just looking in the mirror.”


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