What Is Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?

Most people are familiar with the concept of withdrawal from alcohol or drugs. Fewer people have heard of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS is a secondary phase of withdrawal individuals sometimes experience when in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). These adverse symptoms can last for weeks or months after ceasing consumption of a substance. Symptoms vary, and learning to manage them is crucial. However, it may help to understand more about withdrawal, in general, before diving into PAWS specifically.

Understanding SUD

As many already know, SUD occurs when your use of alcohol or drugs leads to health concerns or problems in your professional and personal life. People develop SUD for several reasons, including environmental, social, and biological factors.

In many cases, the development of SUD is due to past trauma. Big-T traumas in childhood, like abuse, are connected to higher addiction rates. Even little-t traumas, such as peer pressure during adolescence, can cause immense distress, though. The inability to cope with the trauma or stress causes people to turn to self-medication, often with drugs or alcohol. In this case, a dual-diagnosis treatment program may be necessary to manage both trauma disorders and SUD.

Damaging Effects

Recovery is possible if you seek treatment. However, SUD and excessive substance use can have several adverse effects. Consider treatment sooner rather than later to prevent the onset of these damaging effects.

Some of these damaging effects include:

  • Mental illnesses and chronic health conditions developed as a result, such as depression and heart disease
  • Accidents resulting from risky behavior, like driving under the influence or engaging in unprotected sex
  • Risks of overdose
  • Conflicts with family resulting from behavioral changes
  • Problems at work due to lack of performance
  • Issues, legal or financial in nature, due to substance use

Withdrawal Symptoms

Upon entering treatment, individuals typically go through detoxification. The detox process is meant to remove all toxic substances — alcohol and drugs — from the body before treatment.

Unfortunately, excessive substance use causes the brain and body to become physically dependent. You start building up a tolerance, needing more of the substance to get the same effects. When you stop substance use, the body experiences acute withdrawal. The potency, frequency, and substance highly influence the severity of withdrawal. Typical symptoms include the following:

  • Sweating and chills
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Erratic mood swings
  • Intense substance cravings

Other symptoms that are more intense and serious include experiencing a heart attack, seizure, or stroke. Some people even begin to hallucinate or experience extreme fits of delusion.

Due to the potential for dangerous symptoms, it is recommended that you seek professional detox services. Detoxing alone can be risky. Seeking professional help can offer you 24/7 supervision, support, and medication-assisted treatment (MAT).

Effectiveness of MAT

MAT is not only utilized during detox. Many facilities or recovery centers also implement it into their treatment programs. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), MAT can effectively:

  • Improve client survival
  • Increase retention in treatment
  • Reduce illicit opiate use and criminal activities among individuals struggling with SUD
  • Increase the ability to gain and maintain employment

Additionally, MAT is just one of many treatment options that help manage withdrawal symptoms during treatment. Individuals fearful of withdrawal symptoms should take comfort in knowing facilities can help them through it. Doctors and therapists know how to handle withdrawal. Plus, others in the same treatment program can provide support through shared experiences.

What Is PAWS?

PAWS occurs when an individual experiences withdrawal symptoms for weeks or months after stopping substance use. It is hard to determine what causes these symptoms, though some scientists believe physical changes to the brain from substance use can be a factor.

Some PAWS symptoms individuals may experience include:

  • Impaired memory or cognitive function
  • Experiencing anxiety or depression
  • Intense cravings
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Compulsive behaviors

People may also experience similar symptoms to those experienced during withdrawal. However, PAWS can sometimes begin long after the initial withdrawal period. These symptoms can last for weeks, months, or even years after an initial withdrawal period.

Luckily, just as there are ways to manage initial withdrawal during the detox process, there are ways you can manage PAWS symptoms.

Managing PAWS Symptoms

Due to the fact that extended symptoms can potentially last for weeks, months, or years, prolonged treatment options may be required. Psychiatric medications can be used to manage your PAWS symptoms. You may also benefit from individual and group behavioral therapy modalities.

In addition to therapy and medication, you can manage your symptoms by educating yourself, consulting health care providers, prioritizing sleep, and taking care of your body. The road to recovery may be long at times, but recovery is possible. Do not let the fear of these withdrawal symptoms stop you from seeking a life of sobriety.

If you are struggling with active addiction, you may avoid treatment out of fear of withdrawal symptoms. To successfully seek treatment for a substance use disorder, you must go through detox. Purging the body of the harmful substance is vital and can be dangerous, which is why you should never detox alone. Detoxing in a facility will help you manage symptoms through many techniques. Unfortunately, some people experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS symptoms can last for weeks or months after abstaining from substance use. Once you’ve detoxed, Excel Treatment Center can help you manage and stabilize your symptoms. Through our program, you’ll be on the way to recovery. Call Excel Treatment Center at (833) 883-9235 for help.