Working against Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome for long-term recovery

March 31, 2014
Addiction treatment centers are often the first step on a former substance abuser’s long path toward sustained recovery. That journey is so long and varied, however, that there can be several difficult obstacles that occur even after the former drug user thought he or she was finally free from the habit.

While most people tend to associate the period of withdrawal that occurs immediately after the cessation of drug use as the most likely period when someone may relapse, a condition called post acute withdrawal syndrome may actually pose more of a threat to those who have struggled with drug use. Fortunately, understanding the effects of PAWS may result in a better chance of sustained sobriety.

Understanding the Stages of Withdrawal

Drugs can have a transformative effect on the chemical makeup of the human body, and this most commonly manifests as a physical addiction. When a former user abruptly ends the supply of a drug to the body, he or she enters what is known as acute withdrawal.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration explained this as a relatively short period of physical symptoms such as insomnia and pupil dilation. The length of this stage can vary depending on the drug that was being used, but it rarely exceeds a handful of weeks.

PAWS, on the other hand, is more difficult to define. The University of Wisconsin School of Public Health outlined the symptoms of the condition as emotional and mental in nature, rather than physical. Sufferers from PAWS may experience low energy, prolonged dizziness, trouble thinking critically, an inability to deal with people around them and memory issues. The real danger of PAWS is the combination of symptoms and duration – where acute withdrawal may last anywhere from days to weeks, PAWS can affect the person in recovery for a period of several months.

Working against PAWS

PAWS is not unmanageable, though. Understanding the natural stages of withdrawal may make it easier to resist the urge to relapse. The University of Wisconsin recommended staying in touch with a support system, establishing a routine that includes dedicated relaxation times, and a healthy lifestyle of exercise and a balanced diet as effective ways to combat the effects of PAWS.

Friends and family around a former drug user may also reduce the strain of PAWS by making themselves available as a constant source of emotional support. While the person working through recovery may not appear receptive to outside help, understanding that the condition may be hiding the real person underneath can help both parties move toward recovery together.

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