How to Overcome Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Making the decision to recover from substance abuse is hard enough on its own, but throwing in a difficult detox and withdrawal period can feel overwhelming and, at times, downright unfair. 

You might find a bit of relief in knowing everyone else who has successfully recovered before you — and all of the people who are going to undergo recovery after you — will go through a detox and withdrawal phase too. 

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms are a common occurrence in the later stages of your recovery, and while it might feel like it at times, you are not alone in this part of your journey.

We’re going to walk you through exactly what post-acute withdrawal syndrome is, how to know if you’re suffering from it, and the best treatments you can utilize to remedy it.

What is post-acute withdrawal syndrome? 

To fully understand post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), you first need to know there are two stages of the detoxing period. The first stage is sometimes called the acute withdrawal phase, and this is where you experience the physical symptoms of withdrawal, such as insomnia, nausea, anxiety. 

The second stage is more psychological and you typically experience this stage near the end of your recovery process. Not everyone does, but this is where you’d experience PAWS.

PAWS refers to a combination of psychological- and emotional-driven withdrawal symptoms that persist after the physical symptoms (from the first stage) are over.

PAWS is believed to be caused by the chemical and neurological changes that occur in the brain as it rebalances and stabilizes itself as it recovers from the addiction. Certain substances are also believed to be more likely to prompt PAWS. 

For instance, research has shown that people who struggle with opioid or alcohol addiction are very likely to experience PAWS, but those who struggled with a different form of substance abuse can experience it as well.

PAWS is not limited to any one form of substance abuse or addiction recovery, and the severity of PAWS depends on the type of substance used. Receiving professional treatment regardless, is safest and most efficient.

At-home practices to ease PAWS

While there is no substitute for professional treatment, there are a variety of at-home habits you can start practicing to reduce the intensity of your PAWS.

Some of these practices include:

  • Being gentle and compassionate towards yourself during this part of your journey
  • Celebrating every milestone or accomplishment, no matter how small it may seem
  • Joining a support group to find camaraderie among like-minded people
  • Exercising a little bit each day, to reduce physical tension and relieve stress
  • Adopting relaxing techniques, such as yoga, meditation, breathing exercises
  • Eating healthy foods that will fuel your mind and help heal your body
  • Practicing authentic self-care, whether this is reciting affirmations, expressing your emotions, establishing healthy boundaries, learning to say no more often

All of these at-home methods of care are excellent ways to help ease PAWS, and while they can be highly beneficial, they aren’t always enough to completely overcome PAWS.

Professional treatments for PAWS

Seeking out and accepting professional treatment is one of the best ways to not only recover safely and fully from post-acute withdrawal syndrome, but it can also help prevent a PAWS-induced relapse.

Treatment is almost always long-term due to the fact PAWS typically lasts for months, sometimes even years. The two most common and effective forms of treating PAWS are using a combination of medication and therapy.

Since PAWS is predominantly psychological and emotional, it’s important to have the ongoing support and guidance from counselors or therapists to help you cope with any stress or anxiety you might be feeling as a result.

In terms of medication, each situation is different, and you might find that therapy and personal practices are exactly what you need to help you work through PAWS. On the other hand, you might discover you function more easily and feel much better with the assistance of a prescription. 

Depending on the symptoms you’re experiencing, there’s a variety of medications out there. For instance, there’s a prescription to help reduce certain substance cravings; there’s also a prescription to help stabilize your moods if you’re coming off of a psychoactive drug; there’s even a prescription to help you sleep if you’re struggling with insomnia.

PAWS can be difficult and overwhelming to manage, especially after you’ve already undergone a formal detox as well as gone through (or are still going through) rehabilitation.  

That’s why we’re here.

Reach out for additional help

If you aren’t sure how to proceed from here, or you’d simply like more information on PAWS or the different treatment programs we offer, consider reaching out to our team here at Mazzitti & Sullivan Counseling.

Just give us a call today at 800-809-2925, and we’ll help you from there.