What Is Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
Everything You Need to Know About PAWS
Physical pain and discomfort usually go away after drug or alcohol detox, the initial cleansing period of treatment. After this acute phase comes a period in which you will experience an array of symptoms known as Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). During this second phase, you may experience psychological effects that make relapse a real possibility. Understanding this period after acute withdrawal will help you to succeed in long-term recovery.
What Is PAWS?
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a group of drug or alcohol withdrawal symptoms that mainly involve psychological and emotional difficulties. This is the time when your brain chemistry is recalibrating as it learns to live without alcohol or drugs to provide pleasure or neutralize the pain.
If you’ve been using these substances to cope with emotional problems, the problems may feel more intense as you must confront them cleanly. Added to the physical cravings you may still be feeling; this makes relapse a risk.
Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Being prepared for Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome symptoms will help you come through this period successfully. Be alert for psychological and emotional signs, including these common effects:
- “Brain fog” – dull, cloudy thinking and vague memory problems
- Mood swings, varying from irritability to anxiety and depression
- Drug and alcohol cravings
- Trouble falling asleep and staying asleep
- Lack of interest in activities previously enjoyed
When Does Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Typically Occur?
One reason Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can be so tricky is that it does not happen at a set time and then go away. It tends to come and go as you work through your recovery. The symptoms usually arise when you encounter circumstances that used to lead you into drinking or using drugs. As you learn to recognize your substance-use triggers and develop better ways of responding to them, you will find yourself having to manage Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome less often.
Why Do People Experience PAWS?
Addiction recovery is a multi-phase process, and Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is the phase in which your body starts adjusting to your leaving drugs and alcohol behind. Your brain has been used to operating with chemical substances, which altered its chemistry. Now it has to readjust to feeling pleasure and pain in a usual way. Think of it like the way your body feels after you go through an intense workout after a long period of inactivity. You feel sore and tired, but your muscles are finally being used properly. That’s the way your brain is reacting to non-chemical stimulation.
Tips for Managing PAWS
If you’re prepared for the symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, you can manage them better. Here are some ways you can deal smartly with them:
- Take care of yourself, mind, and body. Get exercise and eat properly. Keep your mind busy by taking up fulfilling activities that make you happy.
- If you’re in a 12 Step program, be open to discussing what you’re going through. Other members may be experiencing PAWS as well, and you can help each other.
- If you experience PAWS symptoms, take note of your feelings and what events may have triggered the PAWS symptoms. Some people feel that writing them down helps a lot, even if it just gives you something to do. Write down how you responded, especially if you successfully resisted, so that you can turn to that strategy again.
- If you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, adopt a regular bedtime ritual – same time each night – and limit the caffeine you take in the evening.
- Live by that old saying in recovery: One day at a time. Be realistic about your progress, and remember that long-term sobriety is indeed a long-term process. You will fail some days, but you will succeed on others. Just keep going and be satisfied that you’re making progress.