Common Symptoms Of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

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When a person stops using drugs and/or alcohol, they may experience withdrawal if they have developed a physical dependency. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) refers to lingering withdrawal symptoms. Coping strategies for PAWS include therapy and self-care.

Common Symptoms Of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a term used to describe the range of prolonged withdrawal symptoms that a person may experience when they stop using drugs or alcohol.

Symptoms of PAWS may begin after the acute withdrawal period, or the period that immediately follows cessation of alcohol or drug use.

PAWS is not exclusively associated with chronic, daily substance use. However, the more a person uses drugs or alcohol, the more likely they are to experience PAWS.

PAWS may consist of both emotional and physical symptoms. These symptoms can persist for several weeks or months following detoxification.

Learn more about what causes PAWS, what makes it different from the immediate withdrawal phase, common symptoms, and coping strategies.

What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?

When a person with a substance use disorder (SUD) stops using drugs or alcohol, they often experience withdrawal symptoms. The initial phase of withdrawal is called acute withdrawal.

Acute withdrawal may include physical and mental symptoms that occur in the hours or days after substance use ceases. Withdrawal symptoms only occur if there is a physical dependency.

PAWS is essentially the lingering effects of withdrawal symptoms, which may present as physical health issues and/or mental health problems.

For people overcoming alcohol and drug addictions, PAWS can pose a challenge in the early weeks and months of newfound sobriety.

What Causes PAWS?

With alcohol and drug abuse, the body adjusts mentally and physically to the presence of the substance.

The adjustment is more intense depending on the severity of the SUD, including the amount and frequency of the substances used.

Over time, substance abuse can change a person’s brain chemistry. After withdrawal symptoms subside, these changes persist because it takes time for the body to revert back to the way it functioned before the addiction.

The human body will establish a baseline with time. However, people in early sobriety can greatly benefit from knowing the symptoms of PAWS and how long they can last.

Symptoms Of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

There are a number of physical, mental, and emotional symptoms associated with PAWS. A person may experience greater severity of symptoms depending on their patterns of substance use.

Some of the most common PAWS symptoms include:

  • poor memory recall
  • drug or alcohol cravings
  • extreme emotions or lack of emotions (numbness)
  • unpredictable mood swings
  • poor impulse control
  • sleep disturbances
  • impaired coordination
  • stress management issues, e.g., panic attacks

If you enter an inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment program for help overcoming active addiction, you will receive information on how to better manage these symptoms.

Overcoming substance abuse often involves healing the body first, and then the mind. When you stop using substances, you will need to learn healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with tough, triggering situations.

You will learn about healthy coping mechanisms in treatment. Some people also join support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) or Narcotics Anonymous (NA) to learn and develop coping strategies.

How Long Does PAWS Last?

Symptoms of PAWS can last anywhere from a few weeks to upward of 24 months. Symptoms tend to peak between three and six months of sobriety.

Symptoms of PAWS tend to be more severe for people recovering from benzodiazepine, opioid, or alcohol addiction.

Dealing With PAWS

Learning how to deal with the symptoms of PAWS can help reduce your risk of relapse.

Remember, no matter how difficult it feels in the moment, relapse will only set you farther back in terms of PAWS symptoms.

PAWS symptoms will lessen and ultimately subside with time, but there are actions you can take in the meantime to make dealing with them easier.

Care For Your Mental Health

Substance abuse and co-occurring mental disorders, like anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), often go hand in hand.

Many people with histories of substance abuse, though not all, use substances as a way to deal with the symptoms of a mental health disorder.

Even people without these diagnoses may start using substances to deal with stress, anxiety, or trauma and develop an addiction.

Sobriety allows people to begin dealing with the issues that may have contributed to their addiction.

While in a treatment center, clients can be evaluated by a mental health care provider to determine if there is a dual diagnosis of substance abuse and a mental health disorder.

Some addiction treatment options are also known to be effective in treating co-occurring disorders, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a staple of many treatment programs.

Give Yourself Grace

Learning to be patient with yourself isn’t always easy. When you’ve been dealing with substance abuse, it’s hard not to get frustrated when feel-good energy doesn’t immediately follow detox.

Give yourself grace as an act of self-care. Major life changes don’t happen overnight. When you begin recovery, your body and mind will need time to regain normal function.

If you’re experiencing PAWS symptoms, remind yourself that it’s only temporary. You can also go to an AA or NA meeting for support; members there will empathize and understand.

Break Free Of Substance Abuse

If you or a loved one is dealing with an SUD, contact and get connected to a treatment center today.

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