Post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS) is a condition that occurs in substance abuse patients who have gone through detox and treatment. It’s described as a whirlwind of emotions that occur periodically, without warning, and generally last several days.
Episodes of PAWS can continue to occur for up to two years after treatment. Recognizing these symptoms can help individuals deal with them, so that they can continue their recovery without relapsing back into substance use.
Why Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Occurs
The long-term use of addictive substances causes changes in brain chemistry that can take years to undo. When the addictive substance is withdrawn, the brain begins to produce normal chemicals again, but its ability to do so can be uneven for varying amounts of time after treatment. PAWS occurs when these chemicals are out of balance, and the patient must compensate with increased recovery efforts to prevent the occurrence of a relapse.
Post-acute withdrawal occurs naturally as one of the phases of substance withdrawal:
- Acute withdrawal: Typically occurring in the first two weeks after drug use is stopped, characterized mostly by physical symptoms of detox. This phase is most often experienced in a detox program.
- Post-acute withdrawal: Usually occurring at least two months after detox began, these symptoms are primarily psychological in nature and can last from weeks to longer than a year.
Not everyone will experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS). There are risk factors associated with the syndrome, just as there are for many effects of using substances and detoxing. PAWS can be very individualized, with two patients experiencing PAWS completely differently and others not experiencing any effects. Risk factors for post-acute withdrawal include:
- Duration of the patient’s addiction
- Pattern of substance abuse
- Intensity of drug use and addiction
- Psychological individuality and existence of co-occurring conditions
- Personal health and medical history
- Age of onset of drug abuse
Collectively these risk factors form the patient’s history of substance abuse, that historical use being the primary factors in determination of whether PAWS presents itself. People who have used drugs for longer periods and with greater frequency are clearly more likely to have issues with the syndrome in the post-acute phase after detox.
Just as it was for addiction itself, it will take time for healthcare providers to recognize PAWS and allocate the appropriate time and resources to researching means of helping patients overcome the syndrome’s challenges. Recovery professionals are accepting of the condition, however. These supportive people can help patients prepare for potential onset of the syndrome’s symptoms and recognize when they are occurring as a natural phase of long-term withdrawal.
Common Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
While the physical symptoms of initial withdrawal can vary, PAWS symptoms generally include:
- Low energy and enthusiasm
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Problems with concentration
- Mood swings
Dealing with Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Episodes
Recovery is an ongoing process that requires continued vigilance to prevent emotional states and behavioral patterns that can lead to relapse. Substance abuse experts recommend close supervision of patients during continuing care to ensure that they are educated about the experience of post-acute withdrawal syndrome and providing them with additional counseling, medications and other services to help them during these episodes.
Tips for Overcoming Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Self-care is one of the most important habits that former substance abusers can develop to help themselves get through episodes of PAWS and prevent relapse. Relaxation techniques, staying physically active, eating a healthy diet and pacing your recovery to your level of strength can be useful in dealing with the emotional disruptions and increasing cravings. Patients should be aware that anger, fatigue, hunger and loneliness can trigger these episodes, and they should try to avoid these situations to prevent increased stress.
Getting away from everyday surroundings and routines can help substance abuse patients disconnect from old habits and concentrate on the process of a successful recovery. The warmth and sunshine of Florida provide a positive environment for recovery and rebuilding a life that has been damaged by addiction.
But it can be repaired – with reputable detox at Serenity House in Florida. Call us today at 866-396-4129 to speak with an admissions counselor and learn more about how our programs can help you begin the recovery process.