Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome


Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a group of symptoms that arises as an addict attempts abstinence from their chosen mood-altering chemicals. These withdrawal symptoms can include sleeplessness, unclear thinking and stress, and generally appear 7 to 14 days into abstinence during the stabilization phase. This impairment can last 6 to 18 months after the addict’s last use.

What’s Happening

While in active addiction, the addict experiences a disruption to normal brain activity which impairs clear thinking and how emotions are expressed. As a result of continued abuse of drugs and/or alcohol, the brain needs to make an adjustment in order to “right itself.” It takes time for neurotransmitters to return to normalcy and for the individual to acclimate to a life without mood altering chemicals. This can then make the recovery process a long and difficult process.

Post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a group of symptoms that arise as a drug addict or alcoholic attempts abstinence from their chosen mood altering chemicals.

Essentially, there are 3 major ways that Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can impact a recovering person:

1. Cognitive Effects: Racing or recycling thoughts coupled with impaired concentration and attention span
2. Emotional Effects: Either an absence of or an excess of emotions, with a tendency towards over or hyper reaction
3. Memory Effects: Short-term (30 minutes) memory loss is often the most noted problem

These issues usually affect a person early in recovery. Therefore, it is imperative that family, friends and colleagues recognize the presence of these symptoms.

Another factor that greatly affects the addict is stress. As a result, the recovering individual needs to understand that the lowering of stress is vital in early recovery. This may require specific lifestyle changes such as limiting caffeine, getting 8-10 hours of sleep, eating three balanced meals per day and exercising 3 or more times weekly.

Additionally, meditation and/or other relaxation exercises are often recommended by healthcare professionals and implemented by Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers as part of their scheduled programs.

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