04 Jan How a Drug Rehab Facility Can Help You Manage Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
When you first stop using drugs and alcohol and seek help for addiction, you will likely experience physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal. Most people get help from a medical detox center rather than trying to detox at home. This is because the initial withdrawal period can cause severe and even life-threatening symptoms. For example, alcohol and benzodiazepine withdrawal can cause seizures while heroin withdrawal can cause flu-like symptoms and dehydration. Medical detox centers can prescribe medications to treat the symptoms of withdrawal and keep you safe and comfortable until your symptoms subside.
Detoxification is a completely natural process. When it comes to drugs and alcohol, detox consists of two phases. The first is known as acute withdrawal or acute detox. This is when you initially stop using substances and are likely to seek help from a medical detox center. Acute withdrawal usually lasts for a few days or a couple of weeks.
The second phase of detox is lesser-known and isn’t treated by a medically supervised detox program. This phase of detox is referred to as “post-acute withdrawal syndrome” or PAWS. PAWS occurs over an extended period of time as the brain re-adjusts to being sober after living in active addiction.
What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a condition that describes a handful of withdrawal symptoms, most of which are psychological and mood-related, that persist in the weeks, months, and even years after acute withdrawal symptoms go away. If you abuse large amounts of substances for an extended period of time you are more likely to experience PAWS compared to someone who experienced a short-term addiction.
While the body can recover from acute withdrawal fairly quickly, the brain takes a bit longer to adjust to functioning without drugs and alcohol. This extended adjustment period is marked by emotional and mental symptoms as well as cravings that can last for up to 1-2 years. Symptoms may appear sporadically and unexpectedly, making PAWS a common cause of relapse for individuals who aren’t prepared to deal with these symptoms. Even though post-acute withdrawal can feel scary, it is actually a sign that your brain is fixing the chemical imbalances it has sustained from drugs and alcohol.
Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal
Regardless of which type of substance is abused, the symptoms of PAWS are generally the same. They include:
- Sleep disturbances
- Panic attacks
- Inability to concentrate
- Low motivation
- Mood swings
- Brain fog
- Impaired memory and impulse control
- High sensitivity to stress
- Drug cravings
- Vivid dreams
Even though the symptoms of PAWS are not considered as severe or life-threatening as acute withdrawal, they can be uncomfortable. They can also persist for a long time, creating a challenge that people in recovery must overcome. Fortunately, there are many ways an addiction treatment program can help you cope with post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
What Substances Cause Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms?
Most addictive substances have the potential to cause post-acute withdrawal, including:
However, some prescription medications can also lead to PAWS, such as antidepressants and antipsychotics.
While nearly all substances can cause PAWS, there are unique identifiable factors that may increase your risk of post-acute withdrawal syndrome. These factors include:
- Using the substance for a long time
- Using the substance very frequently or in high doses
- Experiencing emotional issues in the first year of recovery
- Having a co-occurring physical or mental health condition
The best way to manage PAWS is to obtain support from a substance abuse treatment program.
How Can Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) Be Treated?
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms can worsen mental health conditions and increase the risk for relapse. They can also come and go unexpectedly, making them hard to pinpoint and treat. Still, there are ways an addiction treatment program can help you cope with PAWS.
A few healthy ways to manage post-acute withdrawal syndrome include:
- Start a symptom journal – keeping track of your symptoms will give you and your therapist insight into what symptoms you are experiencing, when, and what you need to do to treat them.
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet – eating healthy can improve symptoms of depression, help stabilize your mood, and allow you to get better sleep.
- Exercise – physical activity, even as little as 30 minutes each day, can reduce depression, stress, and anxiety.
- Talk it out – simply talking about what you are experiencing with others can help you process your emotions and see things more clearly.
- Relaxation and breathing techniques – certain relaxation or breathing activities like meditation, yoga, and breathwork can reduce stress, tension, anxiety, and cravings. They can also promote sleep.
- Participate in therapy – the more you participate in your therapy sessions, the more healing you allow yourself to experience, thereby helping reduce your symptoms faster.
Many drug rehab centers can also prescribe medications to treat certain symptoms, such as insomnia or drug cravings. If you find yourself facing unbearable post-acute withdrawal symptoms, speak with your doctor or therapist about what medications are available.
Find Help for Addiction Today
The early weeks and months in recovery can feel like an emotional rollercoaster, but when post-acute withdrawal symptoms show up, a dedicated addiction treatment center can help you cope. There are many inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that can guide you through acute and post-acute detox as well as the rest of the recovery process.
If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, contact us today and speak with an admissions coordinator.