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Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome + Its Effects

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a condition that affects individuals who have discontinued the use of addictive substances. Unlike the acute withdrawal phase, which occurs immediately after cessation, PAWS can persist for weeks, months, or even years. Understanding PAWS is crucial for those in recovery, as it plays a significant role in the long-term recovery process.

At Retreat of Atlanta, we offer comprehensive treatment options to individuals struggling with the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal. To learn more about treatment for PAWS near you, call us now at 762-242-6556 or verify your insurance.

The Basics of PAWS

PAWS encompasses a range of symptoms that are primarily psychological rather than physical. These symptoms can fluctuate in intensity and frequency, making the recovery journey challenging. The condition is often characterized by emotional and cognitive difficulties that linger well after the acute withdrawal phase has ended.

Substances That Can Lead to Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can develop after discontinuing the use of various addictive substances. Understanding which substances are commonly associated with PAWS can help individuals and healthcare providers anticipate and manage potential symptoms. 

The substances that can lead to PAWS include:

  • Alcohol: Chronic alcohol use can result in significant changes to brain chemistry. When alcohol use is stopped, these changes do not immediately reverse, leading to prolonged withdrawal symptoms that can last for months or even years.
  • Opioids: Prescription painkillers such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, and morphine, as well as illicit drugs like heroin, are known to cause severe acute withdrawal symptoms followed by a longer phase of PAWS. The brain’s opioid receptors take time to normalize, contributing to ongoing withdrawal symptoms.
  • Benzodiazepines: Medications such as Xanax, Valium, and Ativan are used to treat anxiety and insomnia. Long-term use of benzodiazepines can lead to dependence, and discontinuation can result in prolonged withdrawal symptoms due to the brain’s adaptation to their sedative effects.
  • Stimulants: Drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine, and prescription stimulants such as Adderall and Ritalin can cause significant changes in dopamine levels. When use is discontinued, individuals may experience PAWS characterized by depression, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties.
  • Cannabis: Regular, heavy use of cannabis can also lead to PAWS. While not as commonly recognized as with other substances, cannabis withdrawal can include mood swings, sleep disturbances, and cravings that persist for an extended period.

Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Recognizing the symptoms of PAWS is essential for managing the condition effectively. The symptoms can vary widely but generally include a combination of emotional, cognitive, and physical symptoms. 

Emotional Symptoms

  • Depression: A persistent feeling of sadness or hopelessness that can impact daily functioning.
  • Anxiety: Heightened levels of stress and worry, often without a clear cause.
  • Irritability: Increased frustration and a short temper, sometimes leading to conflicts with others.
  • Mood Swings: Rapid changes in mood, often unpredictable and without a clear trigger.

Cognitive Symptoms

  • Difficulty Concentrating: Challenges in maintaining focus on tasks, which can affect work and personal life.
  • Memory Problems: Issues with short-term memory, making it hard to remember recent events or information.
  • Cravings: Strong urges to use the substance again, which can be overwhelming and difficult to resist.

Physical Symptoms

  • Sleep Disturbances: Insomnia or irregular sleep patterns that can lead to fatigue.
  • Headaches: Frequent or severe headaches without a clear physical cause.
  • Increased Sensitivity: Heightened sensitivity to stress, pain, or sensory inputs.

Causes and Risk Factors

Understanding the causes and risk factors associated with PAWS can help individuals and their support networks prepare for and manage the condition.

Neurobiological Changes

Prolonged substance use leads to significant changes in brain chemistry and function. These changes do not immediately revert to normal after stopping the substance, contributing to the persistence of PAWS symptoms.

Individual Differences

Each person’s experience with PAWS can be influenced by factors such as:

  • Type of Substance Used: Different substances can cause varying degrees of neurological damage.
  • Duration and Intensity of Use: Long-term or heavy use can result in more severe PAWS symptoms.
  • Mental Health History: Individuals with a history of mental health disorders may experience more pronounced PAWS symptoms.

Environmental Factors

Stressful environments or lack of support systems can exacerbate PAWS symptoms. Supportive networks and stable living conditions can play a critical role in managing the syndrome.

Managing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Effectively managing PAWS involves a combination of strategies aimed at mitigating symptoms and supporting long-term recovery.

Professional Support

Engaging with healthcare professionals is crucial. Therapists, counselors, and addiction specialists can provide personalized treatment plans that address the specific needs of individuals experiencing PAWS.

  • Therapy and Counseling: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns that contribute to PAWS symptoms. Group Therapy provides a support network of individuals going through similar experiences, fostering a sense of community and shared understanding.
  • Medication: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help manage symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or sleep disturbances. These should always be taken under the guidance of a healthcare professional.

Lifestyle Changes

Adopting healthy lifestyle habits can significantly impact the management of PAWS.

  • Regular Exercise: Physical activity can help reduce stress, improve mood, and enhance overall well-being.
  • Balanced Diet: Eating a nutritious diet supports physical health and can positively influence mood and energy levels.
  • Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practices such as meditation, yoga, or deep-breathing exercises can help manage stress and improve emotional regulation.

Long-Term Outlook

While PAWS can be challenging, it is important to remember that symptoms typically diminish over time with proper management and support. Staying committed to recovery and utilizing available resources can lead to a fulfilling and healthy life post-addiction.

  • Building a Support System: Creating a strong support network of family, friends, and peers can provide emotional support and encouragement throughout the recovery process.
  • Ongoing Education: Staying informed about PAWS and its effects can empower individuals to take proactive steps in their recovery journey.

Learn More About PAWS Treatment Options in Atlanta

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a complex and often misunderstood aspect of recovery from addiction. By recognizing the symptoms, understanding the underlying causes, and implementing effective management strategies, individuals can navigate PAWS and move towards a healthier, more stable future. If you or a loved one is struggling with PAWS, seeking professional help is a crucial step in the journey to lasting recovery. Contact us today to begin.

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