At the beginning of recovery many experience symptoms of withdrawal from whatever their chosen substance was. These vary in nature and in the length of time that they are endured. Those who favored alcohol might experience tremors and nausea, those that used stimulants in excess might experience extreme exhaustion and depression. For most though, within a period of days or weeks, the worst of these symptoms subside and the main focus can be a program of recovery. As time goes on, some of these symptoms may persist or return. This is called Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Some are not affected by PAWS at all, and others experience symptoms with frequency. If you identify with the ladder, you may be asking yourself, how do I manage this and how long is it going to last?
More About the Symptoms
As this is not an officially recognized medical diagnosis, there isn’t a lot of concrete information about how long it can last. Most agree that it can last anywhere from 2-3 months to several years. Symptoms experienced as a result of PAWS can differ from person to person based on a variety of factors, including biology and the length of time an individual was using substances. Those who used opiates for many years might find a specific symptom such as restless leg syndrome, to be a more frequent issue while someone who used primarily alcohol would likely not. There are, however, some symptoms that are experienced on a more wide-scale:
- Mood swings – rapid shifts in mood or temperament can be a common occurrence in PAWS. As emotions return after being numbed for a period of time, they have a quick and dramatic effect on moods.
- Fatigue or lack of energy – PAWS can cause routine or occasional fatigue for those that experience it. This lack of energy can cause even simple tasks to feel draining
- Sleep issues – This is most commonly insomnia or keeping an odd schedule like not sleeping more than a couple of hours at night and then sleeping throughout the day. This symptom is sometimes found paired with fatigue.
- Lack of ability to think clearly or concentrate – As substances can affect cognitive brain function, a symptom that is widely experienced with PAWS is the inability to effectively form clear thoughts. This can affect memory, communication, and hand-eye coordination.
- Chronic pain that isn’t linked to another illness – Those that are affected by PAWS often report pain that otherwise appears to have no source. The source of this pain isn’t clear but as the brain chemistry returns to normal the body may experience this effect, usually feeling chronic back pain, body aches, or joint pain.
- Irritability and hostility – While experiencing PAWS some people may have a shorter fuse, making them prey to being more irritable and hostile in response to stress.
- Depression – When people enter recovery and stop using substances, emotions that were previously numb return. They can be overwhelming and if unchecked, might lead to symptoms that are difficult to manage such as depression. Situational depression is the most commonly experienced with PAWS.
Are There opportunities to Treat and Heal From PAWS?
As PAWS is not a medically recognized diagnosis there is no specific treatment available to help maintain symptoms as a whole. Being your own advocate is the most important factor in working to treat the symptoms you experience as part of PAWS. It’s important to be self-aware and informed so that you can take the best course of action for your body and mind. Some things to work on that can lead you to healthy relief:
- Maintain physical and nutritional health through stretching, exercising, and eating well in order to heal yourself so that you’re in the best condition to fight the symptoms.
- Find natural remedies to aid with things like sleep and anxiety, and consult with a doctor before taking any medication.
- Seek outside help for any mental health challenges that occur – care for your mind. Make time for whatever assistance and support is available to aid you in learning to manage emotions that haven’t been a factor for some time.
- Be honest with those around you and seek out your support network – Let people know where you are at and what kind of symptoms you are experiencing. This can help provide support on hard days and accountability for this new self-care routine.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a very clear answer on how long any given person will struggle with post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It varies so widely from person to person that there is no quick or total fix for the symptoms. Caring for yourself and putting your recovery first is the most important thing you can do to ensure that you make it safely through any length of post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Long-term recovery is worth it.
Ashley Addiction Treatment is an innovative treatment program located on Maryland’s Chesapeake Bay. Ashley provides support for professionals seeking help with addiction. We are able to help people with co-occurring disorders and offer confidential treatment programs to meet your needs. Please reach out to us today at 800-799-4673.