What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

If you are in treatment for recovery from addiction, you may have experienced or heard of what is called "post-acute withdrawal syndrome" (PAWS). This term refers to a series of symptoms related to substance use withdrawal. Depending on an individual's drug of choice and severity of use, post-acute withdrawal syndrome can have persisting effects for up to two years. During recovery, it is very important to understand how your body reacts to treatment so that you can adjust your expectations. It is also an aspect of self-care in recovery to help listen to the body.

Why Does PAWS Happen?

For people who are physically dependent on drugs or alcohol for a long time, once you stop using, that dependence does not immediately go away. Physical reliance on drugs or alcohol will linger and create deeply felt discomfort. This is mainly because regular use of drugs and alcohol gradually reshapes the physiological structures in the brain. The abuse of these substances has changed the body's chemistry and rewired the brain's circuitry. When these substances are no longer there, a recovering individual's brain chemicals might experience large fluctuations. Withdrawal symptoms are how the body reacts and adapts to a significant change in the substance use environment. 

What Are the Symptoms of Withdrawal?

Depending on which substance one has been using, the symptoms and health risks differ drastically. Withdrawal from certain substances can be severe and life-threatening, while others may just cause mild discomfort. Apart from the severity, the kinds of symptoms are vastly different. For example, an opioid-related withdrawal syndrome may include anxiety, trouble sleeping, nausea, diarrhea, hot flashes, excessive sweating, or body aches. Detoxing from a benzodiazepine might bring symptoms such as seizures, panic attacks, vomiting, and short-term memory loss. Cocaine withdrawal symptoms include depression, hallucinations, thoughts of self-harm, and psychotic episodes.

The timelines also vary, depending on one's frequency of use and severity of the dependency. For some people, resolving these symptoms might take days or weeks. Because people in recovery will experience some abnormal physical and psychological changes, it is absolutely necessary that one seeks the help of an interventionist. Self-guided detox at home can bring life-threatening risks. An interventionist can help assess the needs and match you with a treatment plan. 

Will My Body Resolve These Symptoms on Its Own?

Unmanaged withdrawal can be dangerous, so there should be interventions in place to keep one safe during treatment. Also, if you are undergoing these symptoms, you cannot expect yourself to be fully functional and take care of yourself.  There ought to be a team of people who can take care of you during this time, including giving you meals and helping with daily routines. Monitoring is also critical so that you do not succumb to cravings.

During this time, you do need to show a high level of cooperation. First, it is important to have a healthy diet in order to get your body fully functioning again. Along with this, hydration is key. You can also drink electrolyte-packed beverages, especially if your symptoms include heavy sweating, diarrhea, and vomiting. Secondly, eat plenty of dark green, leafy vegetables because they provide vitamin B6, folic acid, and other nutrients that boost your mental health and immune system. 

Medical professionals at a treatment center may also suggest you take specific dietary supplements during detox and recovery. For example, since alcoholism may cause vitamin A deficiency, if you are detoxing, it is important to have that as a supplement. It is important to follow their advice.

How to Listen to My Body?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can be the body's message urging you to listen. As frustrating as they can be, these symptoms are part of the body's natural reactions to detoxing treatment. You need to know that the body is doing its work in reversing the effects of drugs and alcohol. You may just need to be compliant and not refuse help. Additionally, there is accountability in adjusting to a healthy diet, exercise, relaxation, and sleep.

Many people who go through post-acute withdrawal syndrome experience sleep problems. The baseline of the body's natural rhythms starts with its sleep patterns. Starting from your early recovery phase (the withdrawal period), quality sleep will be a hard-to-reach goal. When you are doing the hard work of recovering from drug and alcohol addiction, sleep quality is more important than anything. Keep striving for it. 

An uninterrupted sleep each night is a good indicator of successful recovery. Research shows that people in recovery are twice as likely to relapse if they cannot get quality sleep each night.

Do you know about “post-acute withdrawal syndrome” (PAWS)? It is a set of reactive responses to detox and treatment from within the body. Because these symptoms can potentially become life-threatening, it is important to begin detox treatment under the monitoring of trained medical professionals who are experienced in addiction recovery. Do not attempt self-detox at home. You need to seek professional help. It is time to consult with a professional interventionist who has the knowledge about how post-acute withdrawal syndrome plays out. At South Florida Intervention, our experienced interventionists understand the challenges of post-acute withdrawal syndrome upon entering treatment. We strive to help you prepare for what is to come during different phases of recovery. Our intervention strategies also include recovery coaching and case management, sober escort, and parent coaching. We also serve the LGBTQ+ community. Call us at (202) 390-2273 today to discuss a treatment plan that is tailor-made to meet your needs.