The Lesser Known Stage of Withdrawal: PAWS

If you’re thinking about getting sober, chances are you’ve heard about the dreaded withdrawal symptoms that occur not long after quitting drugs and alcohol.  But did you know there’s a second stage of withdrawal that’s not as well-known?  Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, is a series of ongoing withdrawal symptoms – largely psychological and mood-related – that occur after the initial acute withdrawal symptoms have gone away.

These symptoms are individual to the drug that was used, but typically include:

  • severe mood swings;
  • anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure from anything beyond use of the drug);
  • insomnia;
  • extreme drug craving and obsession;
  • hostility or aggression;
  • anxiety and panic attacks;
  • depression;
  • and general cognitive impairment

The onset of PAWS usually occurs around four to eight weeks after getting sober, with each withdrawal episode usually lasting for a few days.

So, why does this even have to happen?  Isn’t the first stage of withdrawal symptoms enough? The damage done to a person’s brain pathways after years of drug abuse doesn’t go away overnight, and it takes time for the brain to recover.  The healing process varies from individual to individual, but some have reported post-acute withdrawal symptoms to last as long as two years.  However, don’t get discouraged – it’s important to remember that these episodes come and go and can lift as quickly as they started.

So, what can you do to help stay strong when experiencing PAWS?

First, be patient and take it easy on yourself.  Though these symptoms can be frustrating, all you can do is take your recovery one day at a time and focus on the positive changes you’re making by being sober.  Experiencing these uncomfortable side effects is actually a sign you’re moving in the right direction.

Next, practice good self-care.  How you will treat yourself in recovery will be the opposite of how you treated yourself in addiction.  Getting enough sleep, exercising and eating right will help give you strength during these post-acute withdrawal episodes and help you heal more quickly afterward.

Finally, be prepared.  If you’re caught off-guard, PAWS and the symptoms associated with it can trigger you to relapse.  But educating yourself about this syndrome and the lingering effects of substance abuse can go a long way towards maintaining your sobriety.

At Arise Recovery Centers, we have many resources available to those struggling with PAWS. With two Texas locations open to the public – Fort Worth and Southlake – we provide intensive outpatient and aftercare treatment to individuals battling addiction.  For more information on our individually tailored drug and alcohol treatment programs, contact us at 1-888-DFW-ARISE (1-888-339-2747) or by email at info@AriseRecoveryCenters.com.

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