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What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome? (PAWS)

Recovery from substance abuse is a journey filled with challenges, one of which is post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). PAWS is a condition that affects many individuals who are in the process of overcoming addiction. Understanding PAWS is crucial for anyone in recovery or supporting a loved one through it. This article provides a comprehensive look at what PAWS is, why it occurs, its symptoms, duration, and coping strategies.

If you or someone you know is facing PAWS, our residential and outpatient treatment programs in Georgia can help. Call us now at 844-904-3485 or verify your insurance now. 

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a set of prolonged withdrawal symptoms that occur after the initial detox phase of addiction recovery. Unlike the severe and immediate symptoms of acute withdrawal, which include muscle aches, nausea, headaches, and increased heart rate, PAWS symptoms are more psychological and emotional, lasting for months or even years. This phase begins as the brain recalibrates after addiction and can significantly impact an individual’s emotional well-being, making recovery more challenging. PAWS can emerge a few weeks to several months into recovery, depending on the duration and intensity of the addiction. Despite being temporary, PAWS can increase the risk of relapse, even for those committed to staying sober. Understanding PAWS and its impact is crucial for anyone in recovery or supporting a loved one through it. Medically supervised detox and ongoing support, like that offered by Serenity Grove in Athens, Georgia, are essential for managing these symptoms and achieving lasting recovery.

Why Do We Experience Post-Acute Withdrawal in Recovering from Substance Abuse?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) occurs as the brain and body heal and adjust after substance use stops. Addiction alters brain chemistry and creates physical dependence, so when the substance is removed, the body and brain must relearn how to function. This readjustment period can cause lingering symptoms. PAWS is a necessary process in early recovery from alcohol or drug dependence, as the brain corrects chemical imbalances from addiction. It is most common and intense among individuals recovering from alcohol, opioids, benzodiazepines, heroin, and prescribed pain medications. 

When Does Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Occur?

PAWS typically begins after the acute withdrawal phase, varying by substance. For many, symptoms start within the first few weeks of sobriety and can last for several months. The duration and intensity of PAWS depend on factors like the type of substance used, the duration of use, and individual health conditions. Symptoms often ebb and flow, akin to waves or a roller coaster, and can be triggered by stress or reminders of substance use. In early recovery, symptoms can change frequently, but they tend to occur less often as individuals progress into long-term sobriety.

What are the Most Common Symptoms of PAWS?

PAWS symptoms can fluctuate in intensity and may come and go without warning, making it essential for individuals in recovery to be prepared for these challenges. Many of the uncomfortable or concerning symptoms experienced in early recovery could be associated with PAWS. One of the most crucial things to remember for those experiencing PAWS is that it is temporary. The symptoms of PAWS can vary widely but often include:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Insomnia or sleep disturbances
  • Cravings for the substance
  • Depression

Can Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Be Avoided?

While it may not be possible to completely avoid PAWS, there are ways to manage and reduce its impact. Engaging in a structured treatment program, such as those offered at Serenity Grove, can provide the support and tools needed to navigate PAWS. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including proper nutrition, exercise, and adequate sleep, can also help mitigate symptoms.

How Long Do PAWS Symptoms Usually Last?

The duration of PAWS symptoms varies from person to person. Some individuals may experience symptoms for a few months, while others may face them for a year or longer. The severity and length of PAWS are influenced by several factors, including the type of substance used, the length of addiction, and the individual’s overall health.

What are Some Coping Strategies for Getting Through PAWS?

Coping with PAWS requires a multifaceted, comprehensive approach. Some treatments that have proven effective for those dealing with PAWS may include:

Therapy and Counseling: Regular sessions with a therapist can help address the emotional and psychological aspects of PAWS.

Support Groups: Joining support groups provides a sense of community and shared experiences, which can be comforting during tough times.

Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting enough sleep can improve overall well-being.

Holistic Practices: Practices such as meditation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises can reduce stress and promote mental clarity.

Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage specific symptoms of PAWS.

By integrating these strategies, individuals can effectively manage PAWS and support their long-term recovery.

Find Detox in Georgia Today

Understanding PAWS and having a plan to manage its symptoms is crucial for a successful recovery. Serenity Grove is dedicated to providing the support and resources needed to overcome addiction and achieve long-term wellness. If you or a loved one is struggling with post-acute withdrawal syndrome, Serenity Grove in Athens, Georgia, is here to help. Our compassionate and experienced team offers comprehensive support and personalized treatment plans to guide you through recovery. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and start your journey to lasting sobriety.