What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)?

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Dependence and Detox

When the body has become dependent on a substance, it is necessary to detoxify before any steps toward recovery can be made. Most often, the body has become so accustomed to the substance that taking it away – even in a safe, medical setting – can cause extreme side effects.

These side effects typically abate after a couple of weeks (the acute withdrawal stage), and the person will feel physically more stable. However, physical withdrawal is just the beginning. Many people in recovery will experience psychological and emotional withdrawal for up to two years after physical detox.

This second, prolonged phase of withdrawal is called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). PAWS is one of the leading causes of relapse, and it often goes untreated because the person in recovery assumes that what they’re experiencing is normal or–worse–deserved. But suffering in silence isn’t necessary! Once you become aware of what PAWS is and how to seek help for it, you can protect your recovery journey from detours.

Physical Symptoms of PAWS

Most of the physical symptoms of detox occur during the acute withdrawal period of about two weeks. These symptoms can include headaches, nausea, tremors, intense cravings, etc. However, even after the body has stabilized, the nervous system is still in repair mode, and prolonged physical symptoms may occur. These can include exhaustion, headaches, and difficulty sleeping.

Emotional Symptoms of PAWS

People who haven’t experienced it themselves sometimes assume that withdrawal is limited to physical symptoms. But withdrawal includes emotional symptoms as well, and these symptoms sometimes don’t appear in full until up to two months after physical detox. Depression, anxiety, anger, sadness are PAWS symptoms that are not only a result of the substance use, but are also directly impacted by other symptoms. Headaches and exhaustion can trigger anxiety and depression, and being frustrated at the lack of sleep or mental cohesiveness can easily segue into anger and sadness.

Unfortunately, the lingering stigma against mental illness in our culture means that a person’s emotional health struggles might be glossed over or brushed off. People in recovery might worry that if they admit to struggling with emotional withdrawal symptoms, they are somehow failing–but that is just not the case!

Mental Symptoms of PAWS

Some of the most frustrating symptoms of PAWS are the mental ones. Difficulty processing thoughts, maintaining focus, and an inability to solve even simple problems can push people to their wits’ end. These frustrations can worsen other emotional and spiritual symptoms.

Additionally, memory problems can develop as the body’s central nervous system is recovering from a substance use disorder. These add to the frustration and feelings of helplessness.

Spiritual Symptoms of PAWS

While it is true that the symptoms and feelings listed in this category could be filed under either “mental” or “emotional” symptoms, they really are deeper than that. These are feelings and symptoms that can best be healed through a spiritual connection.

Regardless of religion (and even without it), spirituality is at its core a strong relationship and connection to oneself. Being self-aware, comfortable in your own mind and body, and thus able to connect well with other people is crucial to the recovery journey.

Feeling overwhelming grief, hopelessness, and confusion – over what is happening currently in your body and mind as well as over how your mood is affecting your loved ones–can cause a deep melancholy. In severe cases, suicidal thoughts might occur.

We Can Help

Iowa’s St. Gregory Recovery Center staff are trained to help with not only the physical aspects of detox and recovery, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual symptoms as well. The entire body, mind, and spirit are treated through our program, and each aspect is just as important as the others.

Continued sobriety is the ultimate goal for everyone walking into and out of our doors. If you or someone you love has a problem with substance use, we can help.

To learn more about programs offered at St. Gregory Recovery Center, drug rehab in Iowa, call and speak with someone today, at (888) 778-5833.

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