Life After Detox
We’ve mentioned withdrawal a few times in this blog, from my personal experiences with alcohol to a more general timeline of symptoms. Those who have been through it know that it can be a terrifying and excruciating experience. Furthermore, for those detoxing from alcohol or benzodiazepines, it can be deadly. For this reason, and to increase chances of success in recovery, we recommend that detoxification under the guidance of a medical professional. However, rather than focus on that first week or so, as previous blogs have done, this entry centers on the strange days following detox and a phenomenon known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
What Is PAWS?
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, also known as PAWS, is a group of impairments that can occur after an individual quits a particular substance. It can be difficult to pin down because the symptoms and timeline vary based on the substance, the amount of time spent using, and the individual’s body chemistry. In general, though, the symptoms are far less intense than initial withdrawal symptoms. However, the duration – anywhere from a couple weeks to over a year – as well as the episodic nature of the symptoms, make PAWS a significant barrier to a successful recovery.
Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Let’s take a look at some general signs of post-acute withdrawal syndrome to be cognizant of if you’re in the first months of recovery.
- Mood swings – You can pretty much count on these if you’ve spent any amount of time in addiction. They include the euphoria of the “pink cloud” as well as the black holes of depression. Anxiety and irritability are also quite common.
- Sleep disturbances – Insomnia and hypersomnia are very common, as are vivid dreams, particularly of using drugs.
- Anhedonia – The loss of the ability to feel pleasure. When those in early recovery talk of being “bored with everything,” PAWS is usually the culprit.
- Cognitive impairment – Also called “brain fog”. This often involves difficulty in learning new things as well as some short-term memory loss.
- Fatigue – Whether it’s the result of the depression or insomnia previously mentioned, an overall lack of energy is very common.
- Cravings – These are also often a result of wanting relief from the other symptoms. However, they can also arise seemingly out of nowhere.
- Sensitivity to stress – This one is unsurprising, given that most of us used substances to cope with stress. However, many researchers also believe there’s a chemical component, similar to an ex-opiate user’s increased sensitivity to pain.
Dealing With PAWS
While none of the listed symptoms may seem like much after the shakes and hallucinations of acute withdrawal, they can easily wear a person down and put them in a headspace for relapse. There are, however, some things you can do to alleviate the effects of post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
- Educate yourself – Congratulations! You’re doing that already and it helps to know what you’re up against. Talk to your therapist or doctor about the things that you’re feeling – they are sure to have insights and strategies.
- Exercise – Breaking a good sweat can help with the insomnia and can help regulate your body’s chemicals.
- Stay positive – It may be easier said than done but hang in there! Take heart in the fact the this is a normal part of recovery and that this is what getting better feels like.
- Practice good self-care – Since you already know you’re going to be very sensitive to stress, try to do what you can to eliminate it whenever possible. A good meditation practice can help tremendously.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a big reason why those of us who have been in recovery for a while often recommend a stay at a 30, 60, or even 90-day residential rehab center. It’s a low-stress environment where someone can learn to deal with each symptom of PAWS as it arises along with other tools of recovery. If you or someone you know is struggling with drugs or alcohol, please give Ocean Recovery a call today. Our admissions specialists are standing by to help you start building your foundation for hope.