There is Withdrawal—And Then There is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
We write about the challenges of withdrawal fairly frequently. The symptoms of withdrawal from any number of substances can be extremely difficult to withstand. A person using drugs or alcohol can easily find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place: they want to quit using substances but find that they can’t because the withdrawal symptoms are too hard to overcome.
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The way out of this trap is to get treatment for a substance use disorder at a facility—like Bel Aire Recovery Center—that provides medication-assisted detoxification that helps see you through the rigors of withdrawal in a safe, temptation-free environment.
Unfortunately, however, withdrawal symptoms can extend beyond the acute—that is, the immediate—period after you stop taking drugs or using alcohol. For some people, the emotional and psychological symptoms of withdrawal can linger for weeks or months—or even years.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome has a cute acronym—PAWS—but its potential negative impact on your recovery is not cute at all.
A Pause to Consider the Causes of PAWS
When you are under the ongoing influence of drugs or alcohol, new pathways are created in your brain and existing pathways are changed. Your brain comes to expect the drugs or alcohol. When it is not provided, the brain tries to remind you that it would appreciate another round of substances.
That leads to acute withdrawal symptoms, of course—but it also explains post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It takes time for those pathways that were changed or created by drug or alcohol use to lose their influence. Fortunately, our brains are equipped with neuroplasticity, which means it is possible to make progress toward a healthier set of pathways. But it takes time—and during that time, you may experience the symptoms of PAWS.
The Symptoms of PAWS
Many of the symptoms of PAWS are similar to those that are related to mood and anxiety disorders—the kinds of mental health issues that may be co-occurring with a substance use disorder. Symptoms of PAWS may include:
- Strong cravings and urges related to drug or alcohol use
- Executive dysfunction
- A lack of initiative
- A lack of pleasure in activities usually enjoyed
- Foggy thinking and/or difficulty with memory and focus
- Feelings of anxiety or panic
- Symptoms of depression
- Frequent mood swings
- Irritability and/or hostility
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Fatigue and/sleep disturbances including insomnia, vivid dreams, and other issues
- Unexplained chronic pain
- Difficulty with fine motor coordination
- Reduced libido
What to do About PAWS
All of the symptoms listed above can be difficult to deal with—and therefore put you at risk of experiencing a relapse. That is why it is absolutely essential to have a plan for keeping PAWS at bay and for addressing symptoms of PAWS when they arise. Some useful strategies include:
- Talking about your experience of PAWS symptoms with a doctor, therapist, counselor, and/or 12-Step sponsor. Your family and friends can also lend a supportive ear, but having a conversation with someone with expertise in recovery is a good idea.
- Avoid situations, places, and people that might be triggering.
- Focus on the fundamentals of self-care including a healthy diet, regular exercise, restful sleep, and positive relationships.
- Know what activities can distract you or otherwise help you weather a flareup of cravings. These might include writing or drawing in a journal, practicing mindfulness or another form of meditation, doing some yoga, going for a walk, listening to music you enjoy, or calling a trusted friend.
- Accept that you may need to write more things down and/or set up reminders in your phone if you are having difficulty remembering things or focusing.
While no one wants to deal with the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, the fact is that it is a part of many people’s recovery journey. Remembering that you are not alone in your struggles can be a helpful way to push through when symptoms arise.
We are Here to Help You Get and Stay Sober
The right time to get help for a substance use disorder is always right now. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol, do not put off getting the assistance you need.
At Bel Aire Recovery Center—located near Wichita, Kansas—we will see you through medically supervised detoxification in a safe environment that is free of temptations. We will provide a rehabilitation experience that includes group and individual therapy sessions as well as treatment for any co-occurring mental health disorders that might be tangled up with your substance use disorder. And we will maintain a continuum of care to ensure that you have the resources and support your need in the early days of your recovery.
If you are ready to make a lasting change for the better, we are ready and able to help you reclaim and maintain your sobriety.