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Surviving Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

The acute phase, in the first few weeks of recovery, is what many people think of when they hear the word ‘withdrawal’. This phase is riddled with physical symptoms that can be anywhere from mildly uncomfortable, to intense, or even life-threatening. The symptoms vary and largely depend on the type of drugs someone used.

The second stage, known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS, is comprised mostly of mental and emotional symptoms. Most people experience similar symptoms, despite what substances they used during active addiction.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

PAWS usually lasts 18 months to two years but is not always constant throughout. Symptoms generally occur in episodes and may seem like they change from day-to-day in the beginning. Usually, the periods between symptoms will get longer over time. However, episodes can seem just as strong when they do return.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Irritability
  • Anxiety
  • Lethargy, tiredness
  • Mood swings
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty focusing

This is why early recovery is often referred to as an “emotional roller coaster”. Feelings are out of whack and can change rapidly. Sometimes episodes come with no apparent triggers, and sometimes even minor triggers result in unexpected outbursts.

PAWS Survival Skills

While Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome might cause someone to feel like they are losing control , the symptoms can be alleviated by taking care of yourself and using coping mechanisms.

  • Stay positive. Remember that this will not last forever, that there is an end to the discomfort. PAWS symptoms are unpleasant, but they are not fatal. Focus on making it through, not on how uncomfortable it is.
  • Take it slow. Recovery opens up a world of opportunities, but if you are suffering from PAWS symptoms, taking on too much at one time can lead to stress and possible relapse.
  • Be flexible, or “go with the flow”. Taking care of yourself might mean changing your plans if you are having a bad episode and not up to doing something. Take each moment as it comes, and make allowances.
  • Reach out. Sometimes just talking about what is going on helps. Call another person in recovery  or someone in your support network. Chances are you know someone who has made it through PAWS and can offer encouragement.
  • Practice mindfulness. Meditate and do deep breathing exercises. Staying in the moment and learning to walk through emotions will get you a long way. Getting through episodes without using builds confidence and hope.
  • Attend to your physical health. Take care of any issues that do need medical attention. Eat healthy meals and snacks, exercise, and get enough sleep. This will help increase your energy and reduce cravings.
Keep in Mind

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is unpleasant , but it is not permanent. Surviving episodes takes work, but it is possible. If you prepare, take care of yourself, reach out for support, and equip yourself with coping mechanisms, you will get through it  and reap the benefits of life without substances .

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