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Dealing with PAWS: Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

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PAWSThere are two stages of withdrawal symptoms from drugs and alcohol: acute withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal.  Acute withdrawal relates to the physical symptoms; they usually only last a few weeks but can be dangerous if not supervised in a medical detox. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) involves less physical symptoms, and more of a psychological and emotional manifestation of withdrawal.  Long term drug or alcohol abuse can cause damage to the nervous system, which can lead to psychological stress after detox. The chemicals in your brain fluctuate as it heals, which is what causes post-acute withdrawal symptoms.  These symptoms are signs that your brain functioning is moderately returning to normal. Many addicts and alcoholics can experience PAWS even months after they have detoxed off of alcohol, opiate, benzodiazepines, and other substances.

Symptoms Of PAWS


Mood swings

Overwhelming feelings of guilt

Negative thinking (“Stinkin thinkin”)

Lack of ability to concentrate or focus

Increased sensitivity to stress

Blocking of memories

Numbness of feelings

Sleep problems

Social anxiety

Lack of motivation

Intense cravings

Memory loss

Feeling lethargic

Little enthusiasm in daily activities

Difficulty multitasking and completing simple tasks

Unrealistic expectations of self and others

Surviving Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

PAWS can last anywhere from 6 to 24 months after detox from drugs or alcohol. It may sometimes feel like you’re taking one step forward and two steps back when dealing with PAWS – this is normal. Awareness, along with a healthy sober support group who understand what you’re going through is suggested in coping with these symptoms. Understanding that these symptoms will gradually go away will help ease the pressure of going through them.  Drinking lots of water, eating healthy, exercising, 12-step meetings, fellowship, and brain building exercises greatly reduce symptoms of PAWS. A healthy balance is also important to anyone newly clean and sober. PAWS is not permanent; just like anything in life, time heals.

If you are experiencing PAWS and would like more support, please visit us on Facebook and get connected with our Watershed Recovery Team today.

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