Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

No one expects withdrawal or detoxification to be easy, but sometimes withdrawal symptoms drag on beyond what the person in recovery ever expected. For some people in recovery, after going through the initial, intense withdrawal symptoms that tend to last two weeks, they are bombarded by a new set of symptoms about two to six months after cessation of drug use. These symptoms are called post-acute withdrawal symptoms, or PAWS, and last for several months (or even a few years in extreme cases).


Acute withdrawal symptoms, which usually occur during detoxification at a safe addiction recovery facility, are fairly severe, and include tremors, cravings, nausea, irritability, mental confusion, insomnia, depression, and more. PAWS are more prolonged and tend to affect a person’s mental or emotional health. PAWS include depression, fatigue, cognitive impairment, anxiety, insomnia, mood swings, cravings, vulnerability to stress, and anhedonia, or the inability to feel joy, even from previously enjoyable activities. Though PAWS may persist for months or years, the symptoms usually ebb and flow, and most PAWS sufferers experience days and weeks with no PAWS at all.


PAWS occur because the body is slowly but surely repairing itself. After detox and treatment in an addiction recovery program, the body is adjusting to living without regular, chronic doses of drugs, and it goes through some growing pains before finally reaching a comfortable balance. Those growing pains can manifest as PAWS. For example, the body in recovery from drugs has to overhaul the nervous system, which is detrimentally affected by substances. During recovery, as the nervous system rewires itself, things may actually go downhill before resolving into pre-addiction levels. The stress response, which is part of the nervous system, becomes much more sensitive before it repairs itself, so that those in recovery are more reactive to stressors in their environment. The stress response reaches its nadir at about four to eight weeks—right around the time PAWS occur, and usually when someone is leaving an addiction treatment center.


Some people are more prone to PAWS while others are less so. Factors such as psychological makeup, co-occurring disorders, and intensity and length of drug use impact each person’s encounter with PAWS. For instance, people who have used drugs more often, for longer periods of time, and at higher dosages have a higher risk of PAWS. Individual physiology and genetics play a role too; two people with the same history of substance use may have different experiences of PAWS.


If you or someone you love is struggling with the disease of addiction, please call or email Right Path Drug Rehab, and we’ll help you find a luxury drug rehab program that suits your needs. Our experienced and compassionate staff are qualified to treat dual diagnosis and provide a monitored, safe detoxification. The treatment program features individual and group sessions and equips clients to cope with cravings, stress, and triggers. After treatment, clients will walk away with a new community of sober peers and mentors and a strong base from which to build up lifelong sobriety. Please contact us today to change a life.


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