What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?

There are always going to be side effects whenever you’re breaking free from an addiction. Whether you’re hours, days or weeks into your recovery process, understand that detox is a normal part of everything you’re going to experience along the way. While you dig yourself out of unhealthy habits, your body will likely enter withdrawal – the to-be-expected side effect of your body craving what you’re no longer feeding it.

Withdrawal symptoms can range from slightly uncomfortable to downright severe, usually depending on the severity of the addiction. Regular withdrawal symptoms typically subside after two weeks, after which point your recovery journey likely begins to get easier. That being said, some drugs and other addictive substances can lend themselves to longer withdrawal periods. Sometimes, withdrawal can last months, and on occasion an entire year. In general, individuals who consume large amounts of damaging substances for extended periods of time are susceptible to developing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome once they begin the recovery process.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) describes a collection of withdrawal symptoms, grouped together to describe what these individuals are likely to experience after regular withdrawal symptoms subside.

Who is likely to experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Anyone with a history of heavy or extended substance abuse is susceptible to develop Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome once their recovery process begins. PAWS symptoms typically incur withdrawal symptoms that can arrive and depart unexpectedly, sometimes after subsiding for hours or even days.

In particular, anyone seeking freedom from extended alcohol, antidepressant, opioid or stimulant use is at higher risk to develop PAWS. Even chronic marijuana users are at risk for developing PAWS when attempting to eliminate the habit.

What does Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome feel like?

You’ll likely recognize PAWS when you first experience it, if only because the symptoms will appear after traditional withdrawal symptoms have already run their course. Any of the following symptoms can qualify as a facet of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome:

  • Depression
  • Stress or anxiety
  • Strong mood swings
  • Unexplained, lasting pain
  • Trouble sleeping or staying asleep
  • Lack of energy
  • Prolonged fatigue
  • Lack of focus/clarity

These symptoms are generally reported in association with PAWS, and aren’t meant to represent a comprehensive list of symptoms you’re likely to experience. If you experience one or more of the above effects after you’ve noticed typical withdrawal symptoms subside, there’s a likelihood that you’re encountering the lingering effects of a PAWS onset.

Why do we experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

It’s not possible to trace Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome back to a single root cause. Because of the many addictive substances that can directly contribute to the onset of PAWS, and because of the existing conditions that can increase or decrease PAWS risks, Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can arrive at any point. Though researchers and doctors don’t currently agree on a definitive list of causes, there’s a consensus that the following triggers can incur PAWS onset:

  • Stress
  • Strong negative habits
  • Ongoing homeostatic imbalances
  • Diet adaptations

How do I treat Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

The first step in addiction recovery is always admitting to the issue, and seeking the right help as you begin your recovery journey toward freedom. The same is true when it comes to Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. Don’t be afraid to consult certified counselors, therapists and mental and behavioral health professionals, for advice on PAWS from licensed sources.

In addition to seeking professional assistance, you can take some of the following actions to help mitigate PAWS symptoms:

  • Set daily schedules to regulate sleep times and work schedules
  • Establish controlled, health-conscious diets that focus on natural ingredients, protein-rich meals and suggested vitamin supplements
  • Set time aside for daily exercise, and daily relaxation
  • Document symptoms, even fleeting ones, as they emerge and subside
  • Regularly take medication prescribed for your symptoms
  • Take cravings and impulses seriously, and guard against any setbacks that can prolong Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
  • Spend time with friends and family members familiar with your struggles and goals

Dedication leaves Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome in the past

In short, there’s no hard and fast rule that can altogether eliminate PAWS. The proven solution for Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, in conjunction with healthy habits, is time spent sober and away from past abused substances.

Motivation and consistent dedication helps you leave PAWS in the past, where it deserves to stay. Don’t let temporary setbacks keep you from seeing the permanent freedom waiting on the horizon. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can last longer than traditional withdrawal symptoms, but it’s still temporary at best. And make no mistake, the day when you wake up permanently on the other side of PAWS is a day that’s always worth celebrating.