Artist's rendering of a person's head with a transparent skull, showing the brain as a glowing orb

Everyone knows and expects withdrawal from drugs and alcohol to be difficult and painful, but you may not expect withdrawal symptoms to last weeks or even months without relief. Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a cluster of symptoms that sometimes occur as you recover from dependence on certain substances, including benzodiazepines (Valium, Xanax) barbituates, opiates (Vicodin, OxyContin), ethanol, and sometimes antidepressants.

Why Addicts Do Not Always Feel Better After Withdrawal

Although acute withdrawal usually only takes days or weeks at most, symptoms like mood swings, inability to enjoy anything outside the substance, cravings, anxiety, and cognitive impairment can last much longer as the changes substances cause in the brain persist.

Scientists once believed that PAWS occurrs mainly because the drugs or alcohol replaced dopamine in the brain, and when they were removed, the brain could not produce its own dopamine. However, the latest findings suggest that serotonin, glutamate, and other brain chemicals may be interacting together to cause the symptoms until the brain can heal.

PAWS can be a major trigger for relapse, so it is important to understand it in order to know how to overcome it and prevent relapse from occurring. Seeing a doctor familiar with PAWS is an essential first step to coping.

You can find relief from PAWS by following a variety of techniques.

What to Do About PAWS

One treatment possibility for PAWS is to use a medication to ease the symptoms. Suboxone has seen some success as an opiate replacement, and naltrexone has been used for alcohol addiction. While a medication may ease the symptoms in the short term and give you enough relief to get to the next step in your recovery, drug therapies do sometimes lead to dependency on the new substance, a new problem with which you must then deal.

Meditation can help ease symptoms of PAWS by refocusing your mind on something outside the body, and by relaxing tension in the body that could be exacerbating symptoms. Exercise can also bring some of the same benefits, and yoga combines the benefits of both meditation and exercise into one package.

Talking to an AA/NA sponsor, counselor, or other supportive professional can also help you cope with PAWS symptoms when they become distressing. Anyone in the support system can be a good person with whom to talk to help you break destructive thought patterns as well as work through issues that arise.

Having a daily and weekly routine will give structure to life and keep you moving forward even when your feelings tell you to stop. Adding time for rest and relaxation will also help relieve anxiety and may ease symptoms. Going to sleep at the same time every night may help prevent insomnia and sleep-related problems.

Eating a healthy diet is helpful—both eating regularly and eating mainly unprocessed, healthy foods. Symptoms of PAWS or any disorder will usually be heightened if processed, junk foods are the main part of your diet.

Giving it time and being patient with yourself is another key to handling PAWS. Taking it easy and not taking on too much, as well as doing things that give you comfort and meet your spiritual needs, can make a big difference in recovery from PAWS.

If someone you love is dealing with PAWS or other problems related to substance abuse and dependence, contact us for information about how we can help.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village at Palmer Lake aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.