Your loved one has completed treatment for alcohol use disorder and seems committed to living a life of sobriety. However, you start to notice that their behavior seems just as problematic as it did when they were in active addiction. They’re angry or depressed; they have dramatic mood swings; they isolate themselves. What’s going on?
What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
The popular but derogatory term for this behavior is “dry drunk syndrome.” “Dry drunk,” a phrase originally coined by Alcoholics Anonymous, describes the condition of a person who has stopped drinking alcohol but continues to behave as if they were addicted. However, the term “dry drunk” is unhelpful. It can make those in recovery feel isolated and stigmatized, leading to states of depression and possible relapse. Given the negative connotations of the term, we’ll describe this condition, moving forward, as a form of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (P.A.W.S.).
Most, if not all, who move through the alcohol (or drug) addiction recovery process have experienced the many emotional and behavioral symptoms of P.A.W.S. Understanding the warning signs, maintaining an open line of communication with your loved ones, and bringing in professional help when needed can make all the difference.
Early Signs of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome:
- Low self-esteem, motivation, and willingness to participate
- Persistent irritability, anger, and sadness
- Anxiety, particularly around maintaining sobriety
- Feelings of hopelessness and depression
- Resentment toward those who can drink or those who encourage you to stay sober (like a sponsor)
Many jump to the conclusion that these symptoms are a sure sign of impending relapse, but that is not always the case. Most individuals moving through the recovery process experience one or more of these symptoms regularly throughout the entirety of their rehabilitation program. Knowing when to seek further professional guidance is imperative if symptoms persist or worsen over time.
Behavioral changes may also be part of P.A.W.S. Most behavioral shifts include an increase in impulsive behavior or continuing to act inebriated in social situations when no alcohol has been consumed.
Other behavioral changes associated with P.A.W.S.:
- Insomnia and lack of a sleeping routine
- Using gambling or excessive TV-watching to replace old habits
- Lying to friends and family; general dishonesty
- Frustration with the treatment plan, leading to skipped meetings and resentment toward their program
- Excessive daydreaming about alcohol use
- Fluctuations of extreme aggression and impulsive behavior, possibly destructive
The recovery process naturally brings up a lot of emotional baggage. Full recovery requires a willingness to explore the reasons for one’s behavior. Going through this deep self-exploration process can be emotionally taxing and overwhelming. Having healthy coping mechanisms in place to help you or your loved one process these emotions is very important.
Healthy coping ideas when struggling with P.A.W.S. symptoms:
- Journaling can help you express emotions that are hard to say out loud; this may be beneficial for therapy and counseling sessions to help move past “roadblocks.”
- Connect with others. Joining support groups can be a great step toward recovery and help you stay motivated throughout the entire process.
- Practicing self-care can empower you to take ownership of your health and make better choices for their future. Try cooking healthy meals, moving the body daily with exercise or dance, and indulging in your favorite type of relaxing activity.
Everybody copes differently with the trauma of alcohol addiction. Establishing a healthy, daily routine provides structure and predictability for the day ahead. Routines can be especially comforting when emotions and tensions are running high.
Try incorporating grounding practices into your daily routine to help mitigate feelings of anxiousness or aggression that may flare throughout the day. Yoga, meditation, and simple deep breathing can all work wonders for calming the nervous system and rebalancing emotions.
Remember, P.A.W.S. and the associated symptoms are normal to experience. Be compassionate toward yourself and seek the proper support as soon as possible. Professional therapists can help you understand and cope with your symptoms.
Let Us Help
St. Gregory Recovery Center in Bayard, Iowa, is here to help you at any stage of your recovery, whether you are just getting started or are experiencing difficulty months or years into your sobriety. We would love to work with you to help you find–or return to–your path to healing.