Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Most people are aware that when a person drastically reduces or stops using drugs or drinking alcohol, they experience withdrawal symptoms. This initial phase of symptoms is called acute withdrawal and can last from a few days to several weeks.
While some people may recover from addiction and leave withdrawal symptoms behind, most people (75-90% depending on the drug used) will experience some level of the prolonged symptoms associated with PAWS, or post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
PAWS refers to the group of symptoms associated with lingering effects of withdrawal. It occurs because the brain is still learning to function without substances present. The symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome are primarily emotional and psychological and can last for several weeks, months, or years depending on type and intensity of substance use. Although the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome eventually disappear, it is crucial to understand them and learn coping skills to deal with them, as they can be the cause of relapse.
Addiction recovery experts believe stress may play an important role in the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Because drugs and alcohol were used in the past as a way to deal with stress, stress felt in recovery can feel more intense and severe. Two factors may determine the severity of PAWS symptoms: 1) how badly the addiction damaged the person’s nervous system and 2) how much stress they experience during recovery.
Signs & Symptoms of PAWS
Mood swings are the symptom most commonly reported by people suffering from PAWS. Along with their sudden and unpredictable changes in moods, they report rapidly becoming overwhelmingly depressed without any cause and then feeling extremely agitated or anxious.
Feelings of No Emotion or Feelings of Extreme Emotion
People that experience this symptom of PAWS often overreact. They can become extremely angry or excessively excited over small matters. Then they enter a stage of numbness where they do not feel any emotions at all. Some people describe the feeling as being empty inside.
When a person experiences anhedonia, they are not able to feel pleasure. They have lost interest in doing things they once enjoyed. In extreme cases, the person can even lose interest in taking care of themselves and may ignore basic needs, such as eating or bathing.
Heightened Sensitivity to Stress
Many people experiencing PAWS are more sensitive to stress, stressful situations, or stressful events. Even a slightly stressful event or situation can cause them to become completely overwhelmed. Their hypersensitivity to stress causes the other PAWS symptoms to be more severe.
Inability to Think Clearly or Concentrate
When a person is experiencing PAWS, they may not be able to solve a simple problem because they are not able to think clearly. They may have difficulty concentrating that is caused, in some cases, by the preoccupation with staying sober.
Clumsiness and Poor Coordination
This symptom is not as common as many others. Some people may experience trouble with balance, coordination problems, dizziness, and slow reflexes. When a person is suffering from this symptom of PAWS, they may appear drunk because they are clumsy.
Insomnia or Sleep Disturbances
Some people with PAWS suffer from insomnia. Others may be able to fall asleep but have difficulty staying asleep or experience very disturbed sleep. Some people report waking up feeling very disturbed after dreaming of using drugs or drinking alcohol.
Sometimes after months or years of sobriety, a person can experience intense cravings very suddenly.
Do You Need Help?
If you or a loved one is struggling with a drug or alcohol addiction, you are not alone. Help is available. At English Mountain Recovery, located in the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee, professionals will guide you along the path to recovery as they help you learn the skills you need to live a sober life. Now is the time to take the first step and call us today.
About the Author:
Terry Hurley is a retired educational professional and freelance writer with more than fifty years of experience. A former reading specialist and learning center director, Terry loved her years working with children in the educational field. She has written extensively for print and online publications specializing in education and health issues. For the last six years, her writing focus has been on addiction and mental health issues.