What You Need to Know about Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Withdrawal symptoms are the body’s response when an individual stops using alcohol or drugs. They range from mild to severe and typically last for several days or weeks. Most individuals experience acute withdrawal after detox from highly addictive substances like alcohol, cocaine, and opiates. Withdrawal symptoms usually cause temporary physical discomfort, but individuals are advised to follow a medically supervised detox to avoid serious complications. Physical symptoms of healing are just the first phase of withdrawal. The second phase is referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.

What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

PAWS involves emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms as the brain recalibrates following an addiction. It is a necessary process that corrects chemical imbalances as the brain starts to produce dopamine and endorphins again. The timeframe for PAWS is usually a few weeks to months into the individual’s recovery and is commonly triggered by stress. The exact timing depends on the intensity and length of the addiction. Many individuals in recovery report PAWS symptoms to ebb and flow frequently in the beginning stages of recovery and occur less frequently the longer they are in recovery.

While PAWS is temporary, the symptoms can lead an individual to relapse. Therefore, it is important to understand post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) and seek out help and support to recover and avoid relapses.

Common PAWS Symptoms

Withdrawal symptoms are often uncomfortable and pleasant. Learning to recognize the most common symptoms of PAWS can minimize the risk of relapse:

  • Mood swings
  • Cravings
  • Foggy thinking
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Hostility and irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Depression
  • Inability to focus
  • Fine motor coordination trouble
  • Easily stressed

Understanding that these are PAWS symptoms and are temporary can help you get through this difficult time without relapsing.

Managing Symptoms of PAWS

PAWS occurs more often, and with greater intensity, in individuals with addictions to alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. It’s not possible to avoid these symptoms altogether, but you can manage them effectively to feel better and reduce the risk of having a relapse.

When symptoms occur, they typically last for a few days. The pattern of symptoms depends on the type and frequency of substance use. The process of brain recalibration lasts between six months and two years. Whenever you experience PAWS symptoms, follow these coping strategies to stay strong:

  • Practice self-care
  • Share your experience by talking to others
  • Get psychiatric and psychological care from a mental health professional
  • Stay mindful and observe the situations and emotions that lead to flare-ups of PAWS symptoms
  • Keep track of your symptoms and progress in a journal
  • Stop negative or circling thoughts by engaging in a conversation with others or starting a new activity
  • Write down reminders for yourself to help overcome memory issues
  • Be realistic and stay kind to yourself during your recovery. Remember that it takes time and it’s okay to have bad days

Are you or someone you love recovering from drug or alcohol addiction? East Point Recovery Center can help. We are a 12-Step Treatment Center for Drug and Alcohol addiction committed to providing customized care with compassion. Contact us today to find out how we can assist you on your journey to recovery.