Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

In explaining the nature of post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), an understanding of acute withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is first required. Thankfully, though, the differentiation is relatively simple, as AWS is used to denote the immediate symptoms that arise once an addict ceases to use drugs and/or alcohol.

As you can imagine, the scope of the potential AWS are wide-ranging. In essence, an addict’s mind and body are attempting to fight back against existing without the substances they are used to depending on. Most commonly, the symptoms occurring during AWS can be categorized as either emotional or physical, with example symptoms including anxiety and sweating.

The duration of AWS can last up to a few weeks for some addicts as they work through the detoxification stage. Following the end of AWS, addicts will find that they are experiencing fewer physical symptoms. To denote this change, PAWS signifies the beginning of a new stage in the recovery process.

Generally, it is found that most addicts encounter similar emotional and psychological symptoms while in PAWS, whereas the physical symptoms can be wildly different during AWS. The symptoms faced in PAWS arise because the chemicals in the brains of addicts are returning to normal levels, and this requires addicts to adjust to the fluctuations.

The Symptoms of PAWS

As touched on in the previous section, somebody entering the PAWS state of their recovery will ideally see their physical symptoms disappear. Meanwhile, their mental and psychological symptoms can unfortunately intensify. And it’s that intensification that leads to many addicts finding it more difficult to cope with PAWS than they did while in AWS.

Before touching on the difficulties of PAWS in greater depth, first it is important to outline the most common symptoms faced by recovering addicts. The most common symptoms are as follows:

  • Anxiety
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Erratic energy levels
  • Irritability
  • Low enthusiasm
  • Mood swings
  • Tiredness
  • Varied concentration

The sad truth about PAWS is that you will endure the most erratic feelings of your life. Unfortunately, some of the symptoms listed above can change as often as every minute or every hour. Another demoralizing fact about PAWS symptoms is that they can disappear entirely for a number of months, only to return out of nowhere.

Thankfully, however, not all of the news is bleak. The benefit of beating the symptoms each time is that the PAWS episodes will decrease in frequency, giving you longer periods of pleasure. Also, the feeling of beating PAWS symptoms will only help you to feel stronger and that you are making progress with your treatment. In quantifying overall duration, most recovering addicts find that it takes them approximately two years before their PAWS symptoms disappear entirely.

Overcoming PAWS

Protracted withdrawal syndrome is another term for explaining PAWS, but both describe the same syndrome. The alternate term is useful because it clearly communicates that the symptoms of withdrawal can persist for an extended duration.

Patience is the most important quality to possess during PAWS. Making it through the symptoms will take up to two years, so you’re working your way through a marathon and not a sprint. Take your time and conserve your energy. With practice, you can improve your patience and take each day as it comes.

Building on the recommendation of conserving your energy during the bad days, it is important that you take small breaks along the way. In talking with an experienced drug councilor, you will hopefully understand the importance of not beating yourself up. Nobody makes it through PAWS in days, weeks, or months – don’t forget that.

At some point during PAWS – and there’s no telling when – you will feel many of the symptoms rushing back at once. For many addicts, this is feeling that can potentially trigger a relapse. You have to be aware of this risk, as it will crush you if you think you can beat PAWS in just a few months.

The last piece of advice is to depend on the support system that was implemented during your early recovery. Not seeking help is how all of these problems started, so don’t hesitate asking for help or support, no matter how bad it might make you feel. Self-belief and support will help you make it through PAWS.