By most definitions, the term dry drunk refers to someone who is not acting out, but has failed to do the work that leads to recovery. A dry drunk is like a man crawling across a desert, depressed, angry, and craving the water that he won’t allow himself to drink.
Sobriety is about replacing the thinking and behavior of an addict with that of a sober person. The damage that alcohol and other drugs facilitate is in the form of emotional, physical and spiritual harm, as well as severe damage to externally visible things such as relationships, attitudes, work, and legal problems.
Fixing the exterior doesn’t clean the kitchen, nor does hiding the garbage in the broom closet. Likewise, ceasing our acting out doesn’t create sobriety all by itself, although it is absolutely imperative as the first step in that direction. When our brains are impaired by current use — and for some months and even years afterward in some cases — we don’t have the faculties or experience to make the changes we need without guidance.
Our unskillful ways of thinking and living do not go away simply because we’re abstinent. When a person stops using, they may find that some of the external things get better, but unless they’re working on the internal stuff, nothing really changes in terms of the ways they relate to themselves and the world. The steps, outside help and spiritual guidance (with or without a “god”) are the ways that we improve WHO we are, as opposed to what we were.