For most of us, detoxing from substances can be something we never want to face because of the intense withdrawal symptoms. It even keeps some of us in the cycle of addiction because the fear of withdrawal is so real. But unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. There are more withdrawals after the initial ones called PAWS – Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. These can last for quite some time and can even bring on some physical symptoms, such as anxiety, that you may have never experienced before.
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The Stages of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
When we start this road to recovery we have to be in it for the long haul. We have to be committed to the fact that it will not be easy and it there will have to be efforts made every single day for the rest of our lives. Some days are easier than others but we have to be prepared and never let our guards down or we may lose the battle and give in to a relapse.
There are two stages of detox or withdrawal symptoms and to fully understand Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS), you must fully understand what each stage is.
The first stage of detox, acute withdrawal – is the main physical withdrawal symptoms, which can last from a few days and up to two weeks. These occur immediately after the substance of whatever you were using starts leaving your body.
Some of us try to stop “cold-turkey” at our homes, which have minimal chance of success and can be very dangerous because of some drugs causing life-threatening complications when abruptly stopped. This is especially true, for example, of individuals who are in the acute withdrawal stage of alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates, as these substances have increased risk of complications without medical supervision, including seizures or coma.
Another, the more successful and safer route is to seek help through a medically supervised detox where a supervised setting by a professional medical team is available. Because there are so many different acute withdrawal symptoms that may occur, and the various addictive substances that may be used, it is always advised to seek a medically assisted detox rather than quitting on your own, or cold turkey.
The second stage of detox, known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) – This happens when your brain tries to re-calibrates and function properly and get back to normal after active addiction. Unlike acute withdrawal, which is primarily physical withdrawal symptoms, the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal are all psychological and emotional. Depending on the amount and the length you used the alcohol or other drugs, post-acute withdrawal symptoms typically last between one to two years; but, the severity and frequency of symptoms tend to dissipate as times go by with abstinence of substances.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can be not only uncomfortable, but symptoms can happen to hear and there, and because we may be taken by surprise, it makes PAWS a driving reason for many people that are new to recovery to relapse. Even sometimes no matter how committed we are to stay clean and sober, we can be taken off guard. Also, PAWS is basically the same for everyone no matter what they were abusing.
Anxiety is one of the most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms
Some of the most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms include:
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
- Irritability, aggression, hostility
- Anxiety or panic attacks
- Impaired concentration
- Lack of enthusiasm or motivation
- Mood-swings (severe highs and lows in the mood)
- Fatigue or low energy
- Foggy thought process
- Poor impulse control
- Increased sensitivity to stress
- Alcohol or other drug cravings
Some of these like sleep issues or memory can be easily taken care of with consistency of healthier lifestyle changes such as reading or exercise. But some such as panic attacks and anxiety can be very difficult to get over. You may never even had anxiety before and if you did, while you were using, you would have just taken drugs or alcohol to cope. Now that you are off substances you must find new and healthy ways to cope with anything and everything that comes your way. Whatever it takes to keep us on the road to recovery.
PAWS is a normal step in the recovery process and it is important to learn what it is and how to deal with it because If not, the uncomfortable symptoms can lead to a relapse. There is good news though, episodes of PAWS usually only last a few days at a time and if you use effective coping strategies, you can ride out the difficult days until the good days return. Some coping strategies might include:
- Practice self-care so you are strong enough to handle episodes when they arise
- Maintain a balanced diet so nutritional deficiencies become less of an issue
- Prepare yourself for dealing with stress by practicing positive stress management
- Exercise daily to keep your body in shape and improve your mental well-being
- Seek the support of others to help you through the difficult days
- Remember the symptoms of PAWS are temporary and better days are ahead
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can be a difficult part of one’s recovery and many facilities can help including Garden State Treatment Center. Our outpatient programs can keep you on your road to recovery by providing emotional as well as physical stability, by connecting clients to support groups and other long term sobriety resources.
Get the Help You Need
Our care continues after clients leave our facility. We ensure that before their treatment ends, every one of our clients is connected to whatever resources they need to maintain their sobriety. The result is an addict or alcoholic who finds that they have been launched into a new and more rewarding dimension of their experience, one that’s healthy, full of life, and grounded in authentic recovery. Get help now at Garden State Treatment Center.
How to help post-acute withdrawal syndrome and anxiety?
Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) refers to a collection of symptoms that can occur after the acute phase of withdrawal from substances such as alcohol, opioids, or benzodiazepines. PAWS can include symptoms like anxiety, depression, mood swings, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. Managing PAWS and anxiety often requires a combination of strategies:
- Professional Support: Consult a healthcare provider or addiction specialist. They can help manage symptoms, recommend medications if needed, and provide referrals to mental health professionals for therapy.
- Medication: In some cases, medication may be prescribed to alleviate anxiety or other symptoms associated with PAWS. Always consult a healthcare provider for advice on medication.
- Counseling and Therapy: Engage in counseling or therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which can be effective in managing anxiety and helping to develop coping strategies.
- Support Groups: Attend support groups or peer support meetings. Sharing experiences and learning from others who have gone through similar challenges can be beneficial.
- Healthy Lifestyle: Adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes a balanced diet, regular exercise, and good sleep hygiene. These can positively impact mental health and help manage symptoms of anxiety.
- Stress Management: Learn and practice stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, or yoga. Managing stress can be key in reducing anxiety and improving overall well-being.
- Avoiding Triggers: Identify and avoid triggers that may worsen anxiety or other symptoms of PAWS. This can include certain environments, people, or situations.
- Social Support: Stay connected with supportive friends and family members. Having a strong social support network can be crucial in the recovery process.
- Educate Yourself: Understand the nature of PAWS and anxiety, and be prepared for the fact that symptoms may come and go. Knowing what to expect can sometimes reduce anxiety about the symptoms themselves.
- Patience and Persistence: Understand that recovery and the resolution of PAWS can take time. Be patient and persistent with the recovery process.
Remember that the management of PAWS and anxiety should be individualized. What works for one person may not work for another. It’s important to work closely with healthcare professionals to develop a personalized plan for managing symptoms. Additionally, if anxiety or other symptoms are severe or causing significant distress, it is important to seek emergency help or contact a healthcare provider immediately.