What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Many of the symptoms that come with drug and alcohol withdrawal come from the toxic effects that these chemicals have on the body and brain. The first days and weeks after someone stops using alcohol and drugs, people can experience acute withdrawal symptoms can be more serious for some individuals than others depending on the person’s state of overall health and the drugs they are attempting to stop using.

What are withdrawal symptoms?

Withdrawal symptoms are the symptoms that occur in the brained body when a person who is dependent on drugs or alcohol suddenly stops using the substance. Both prescription and illicit drugs can lead to withdrawal and the symptoms can last for a few days or a few weeks.

Physicians will often work with their patients to keep withdrawal symptoms under control. However, individuals who struggle with addiction are likely to experience withdrawal if they attempt to abruptly stop taking drugs on their own or if they are unable to get their drug of choice.

Withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable, but they usually end after about two weeks, especially when a doctor is overseeing the patient’s detox process. However, there are some substances that can cause protracted or prolonged withdrawal, which means an addict may experience these withdrawal for a few months or even up to a year. This conditions is known as PAWS or post acute withdrawal syndrome and it is more likely to occur in people who have used large quantities of harmful substances for extended periods of time.

PAWS is a term that was coined to describe the combination fo continual withdrawal symptoms which are primarily related to mood and mental function. The symptoms of PAWS can persist even after acute symptoms have ended. Individuals who experience PAWS usually don’t endure physical symptoms such as pain, headaches, cramping, and nausea, but the effects of PAWS can be just as serious since they increase the chances of relapse. In some cases, addicts who experience PAWS may go back to using their drug of choice to alleviate their discomfort.

What is PAWS?

PAWS is classified as any symptoms that persist once the acute withdrawal period is over. Some addicts may experience a “rollercoaster” of symptoms which means the mental and psychological effects of withdrawal could come and go without warning.

Each PAWS episode can last for a couple of days and continue cyclically for as long as a year. Addicts can experience PAWS symptoms even after they are no longer taking drugs or drinking, but people are most likely to experience PAWS after stopping use of the following substances:

  • Alcohol: Symptoms of PAWS pertaining to alcohol abuse was first defined in the 1990s, although people have been struggling to achieve sobriety for longer than that. Stopping alcohol abuse abruptly can be dangerous since it can lead to psychosis and seizure which increases the likelihood of PAWS.
  • Antidepressants: Few people use antidepressants as recreational drugs since they don’t provide immediate intoxication. However, stopping the medication suddenly can significantly change neurotransmitter levels in the brain. People who struggle with depression are often prescribed antidepressants so withdrawal may cause severe depression which can continue for months.
  • Benzodiazepines: These medications can assist people with panic disorders and anxiety and it is easy for the brain to become dependent on these drugs. Since benzodiazepines are so addictive, most doctors don’t prescribe the drug for more than two weeks at a time. Withdrawal symptoms include panic disorders, cravings, fatigue, and insomnia, which leads some addicts to start taking the drugs again.
  • Antipsychotics: These medications bind with the dopamine receptors in the brain to decrease delirium and hallucinations. When this substance is discontinued suddenly, the person can have severe mood swings that can last for months.

Once acute withdrawal symptoms subside, PAWS may be a serious issue for addicts who are in recovery. These symptoms vary in severity based on several factors. Generally, addicts may experience the following symptoms at some point during recovery:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • hostility and irritability
  • mood swings
  • fatigue
  • low energy
  • chronic pain
  • lack of libido
  • lack of concentration and focus

When you’re ready to start your sobriety journey, our professional counselors are here to help. Contact us today at 844-639-8371 to start your rehabilitation treatment.

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