What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)? - ARISE Rehab

Addiction is hard on your mind, body, relationships, and overall well-being. Recovery is challenging, but it’s possible to put your addiction in the past and focus on a healthy, sober future.

After finishing detox and an addiction treatment program, most people are ready to move on without the physical, emotional, and behavioral effects of their addiction. But for some, lingering withdrawal symptoms may keep them stuck for a long time.

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a complication that can develop after someone stops using substances. Experiencing long-lasting symptoms can put people at increased risk of relapse and cause them to feel discouraged about their recovery.

Learn more about Post-acute withdrawal syndrome and how to manage its symptoms by reading this helpful guide. If you’re ready to get treatment or support to help you overcome substance abuse or addiction, reach out to the knowledgeable team at Arise Treatment Center today.

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?

When you stop using drugs or alcohol after heavy use, your body must adjust to the absence of these substances. During this detox period, many people experience physical and emotional withdrawal symptoms that range in severity and duration. Generally, people have withdrawal symptoms for days or weeks.

But some people continue to experience withdrawal symptoms for a long time after detoxing from drugs or alcohol. This is called post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS. The symptoms of PAWS can linger for many weeks, months, or even years.

Typically, the symptoms associated with PAWS are not as regular or intense as those experienced during acute withdrawal. Still, the symptoms can interfere with people’s lives. They can make people uncomfortable for a long time and put them at risk for relapse.

People who develop PAWS may feel discouraged or frustrated about their lingering discomfort. But some treatments and therapies can give people hope and comfort as they manage the condition.

What Causes Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Heavy or prolonged substance abuse can change the way your brain works by altering its chemistry and structure. While it’s not clear why some people develop PAWS and others don’t, many medical experts believe that the condition’s symptoms result from your brain returning to its natural stage. It’s believed that people may continue to experience withdrawal symptoms until their brain has had a chance to fully regulate–which can take months or longer.

Some drugs are more likely to cause post-acute withdrawal symptoms than others. Drugs of abuse that are widely known to cause PAWS include:

Can I Prevent Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Medical and addiction experts don’t fully understand why some people develop PAWS and others do not. But you can take steps to limit the severity of your withdrawal symptoms and reduce your risk of complications during the detox process. These steps include:

  • Seek the support of a medically-supported detox program instead of attempting to quit cold turkey
  • Never change, stop, or adjust your prescribed medications without a doctor’s guidance
  • Learn healthy ways to cope with stress
  • Take care of your body and mind during withdrawal by eating well, getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and incorporating exercise into your daily routine
  • Find support for your mental health–talk to a therapist or join a support group focused on addiction recovery

Taking care of your overall health and well-being will help you manage withdrawal symptoms effectively for as long as they last.

Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

The type, duration, and intensity of PAWS symptoms can vary, depending on the severity, type, and length of your substance abuse, your health, and other factors. In general, the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Cravings
  • Trouble with memory, focus, and concentration
  • Decreased stress tolerance
  • Chronic pain with no underlying cause
  • Irritability
  • Low libido
  • Fatigue

These symptoms are common in people with PAWS, no matter what substance they abused. Symptoms may come and go or fluctuate throughout the duration of a person’s post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

How Can I Manage Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

People living with PAWS must find healthy ways to manage their symptoms. Here are some practical ideas to help you manage the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome.

Keep track of your symptoms

Keeping track of your PAWS symptoms can help you identify what triggers them–and what seems to help. You can use this information to help you stay more comfortable and in control of your symptoms. Write information in a notebook or store it on your phone for easy access.

Practice self-care

Real, meaningful self-care means meeting your physical, social, and emotional needs regularly. This may involve:

  • Eating nutritious foods regularly
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Drinking water
  • Avoiding triggers whenever possible
  • Having enough social and emotional support
  • Taking care of your hygiene

PAWS symptoms can sometimes make daily life challenging, but practicing these habits can help you stay comfortable and focused on moving forward.

Reduce stress

Stress can be triggering for those with PAWS. Healthy coping skills can help you reduce and manage your stress, which may reduce the intensity of your PAWS symptoms.

Healthy stress management can include:

  • Keeping a journal
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation
  • Participating in enjoyable hobbies
  • Regular exercise
  • Using breathing techniques

Reduce stress as much as possible by avoiding people, places, or situations that frazzle your nerves. Learn to say no to requests that will sap your energy and take regular breaks from the business of life.

Continue treatment after detox

While self-care and healthy lifestyle choices can reduce the severity of PAWS, one of the best ways to manage it is to continue treatment after detox. Medical detox programs usually last one week or less which is not enough time to overcome addiction. By attending an inpatient or outpatient treatment program after you finish detox, you can continue receiving professional support for your condition.

Some drug and alcohol rehab centers can prescribe medications like naltrexone that can reduce withdrawal symptoms and drug cravings after a detoxification period. They can also facilitate group and individual therapy sessions that help you stay sober so you don’t have to relapse and go through detox again.

Find Help Now

If you or someone you love need support to manage PAWS or you want to start an addiction treatment program, reach out to the caring specialists at Arise Treatment Center today. We will help you explore your treatment options and support you every step of the way.


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