Beating PAWS: How to Cope With Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Recovery from addiction is a journey, and like most journeys, the road to recovery can have some bumps and bounds along the way. For many recovering addicts, the severe withdrawal symptoms that trail behind an addiction are often the biggest obstacle of all.

For the majority of drug addicts, recovery does not mean completing the first stage of detox. It does not rest alone in abstinence from drugs. Recovery, on the other hand, takes time, and for many struggling addicts, that time is extended due to challenges with withdrawal. In fact, most people in drug treatment are faced with this issue at some point during the course of their addiction. They do not start feeling better until weeks, months, or even years after their substance use has subsided. 

protracted withdrawal syndromeAn addiction is unique to the individual it clings to—its progression, its impact, and its healing process will be different person to person. Some individuals are affected only slightly by withdrawal symptoms, while others are debilitated almost completely by withdrawal and its related conditions. In the latter case, post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), or protracted withdrawal syndrome, is a likely contributor.

PAWS is defined not solely by the presence of these severe withdrawal symptoms, but by their persistence. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can last anywhere from months to years after substance abuse has stopped. In fact, its symptoms typically do not peak until four to eight weeks after substance abuse has stopped. The problem, however, is that this 8-week period is when many individuals in short-term treatment are “completing” their program and reentering the world once again.

The inability to cope with these withdrawal symptoms is often what leads to relapse. Long-term drug treatment providers like Turnbridge can help those battling addiction prevent relapse by showing them how to better recognize and manage withdrawal symptoms.

Post-acute withdrawal can inflict intense feelings of irritability, hostility, suicidal thoughts, depression, fatigue, insomnia, and overall bodily pain. Anxiety, however, is perhaps the most tell-tale sign of protracted withdrawal syndrome. People experiencing it tend to feel more sensitive, nervous, and fearful of their condition and their surroundings. Another prominent sign of PAWS is its ability to impair impulse control, cognitive function, and further lend way to dogged drug cravings and memory loss.

While many addiction professionals are aware of prolonged withdrawal syndrome, most users are still lacking the proper a name for it. Most know it solely by their own personal struggle, and as a result, grow hopeless at its weakening capabilities. If your loved one is recovering from addiction, struggling with withdrawal, but is not aware of PAWS, he, too, may be growing discouraged. PAWS can make users feel as though they will never fully heal again, and that can strongly increase a person’s chances of relapse. As a result, it is critical to catch protracted withdrawal syndrome early on in the treatment process. Equally so, it is also important that we continue to educate ourselves, our sons, and our daughters about the risk of PAWS.

To defeat PAWS, a person must be:

  • Patient. One of the most beneficial ways to combat PAWS is simply to remain patient. Recovery is a process—a process that should come in phases, not one that can be easily accelerated. Those struggling with post-acute withdrawal syndrome often want to streamline through the recovery process in order to reach their end goal quickly. It is important for them to remember that the body needs time to regain strength, and their mind will need time to again find a “normal” state.
  • Aware. Being aware of prolonged withdrawal syndrome and its risks can help clients develop realistic, positive attitudes towards their recovery. It is normal for recovering addicts not to feel one hundred percent themselves weeks or months after their drug use has stopped. But by being aware of withdrawal symptoms, and understanding how to cope with them, a person can persevere and get through the toughest stages of all.
  • Willing to change. Despite feelings of depression or hopelessness, those with PAWS must have a willingness to change—their habits, their behaviors, and their mentality. Long-term recovery programs can help amplify this process, by guiding clients to acquire new skillsets, new friends, and new goals for the future.
  • Supported. A critical component to defeating protracted withdrawal syndrome is professional continuing care. A drug rehab center can not only monitor a person’s progress throughout recovery, but also advise clients on relapse triggers, stress-management, and healthy activities that can replace their old drug-using habits.

Call Turnbridge at 877-581-1793 for more information on post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or to find the professional support that your loved one needs.