Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Withdrawal refers to any acute symptoms individuals experience after they discontinue drug use in their battle with drug addiction.  Withdrawal portrays a series of symptoms that can come and go at unexpected times. Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, however, can affect a person long after physical withdrawal symptoms end. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) symptoms may last for days, months, or even up to a year.

Symptoms of normal withdrawal include feeling dizziness more often than usual, severe headaches, nausea, grogginess, anxiety, and vomiting. Over time, these symptoms may become less severe as the body begins to better cope with not having to process the drug anymore. Some people, though, do go on to experience Post-Acute Withdrawal. To better understand this syndrome, let’s take a look at what withdrawal can cause, to begin with.

Defining Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

What is Withdrawal?

How long you have been using drugs does play a significant role in how severe and how long you will experience the withdrawal phase. Each specific drug can affect each differently. Therefore, each withdrawal phase can be a little bit different for everyone. It’s important to be aware of what to expect during this phase as to prepare for the first stages or sobriety. The better equipped you are, the higher chance you’ll have at successful, lasting recovery.

Several factors will dictate how intense of a withdrawal you experience. These factors also contribute to the types of withdrawal effects you will feel. Symptoms both during withdrawal and after, such as with Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, vary from person to person.

1. Amount of Time Taken the Drug

Generally, the longer you have been staying dependent on any particular drug, the more severe your case of withdrawals will be. You may expect to feel awesome directly after discontinued use, but this isn’t so. As the drug has become so much a part of your regular life, your brain and body have to take some time now to readjust to living without the substance. It could take even more time for your system to recover from the damages made.

When there has been continued drug use or substance abuse, the body has built up a tolerance. In many cases, drug users take more of a substance to feel the desired effects of a smaller dose to someone who doesn’t take drugs. Hence, in this case, the body and mind are prone to addiction. The drug user becomes dependent on the drug to feel “normal” on any given day. When drug use is put to an end, receptors in the brain signal discomfort to the body. Such distress begins the withdrawal.


2. Dosage

The higher doses of the drug a person has become immune to taking, the longer the effects of post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) will appear. The fewer doses you were accustomed to receiving, the better your chances of experiencing a less severe withdrawal period will be. For example, a person accustomed to consuming an outrageous amount of benzodiazepines per day will suffer a painful withdrawal. Their brain chemistry will change dramatically as the neurotransmitters release more than they were used to while on the drugs. It’s likely that this would cause extreme mood swings, anxiety/paranoia, and fatigue. On the other hand, someone who has a mild dependency on marijuana for sleep issues might experience a significantly milder withdrawal. They might undergo periods of insomnia and irritability, but their brain chemistry will still be in total balance as before.


3. Quitting Cold Turkey

This term refers to an addicted person trying to discontinue the drug on their own with no medical or professional help. This can be ineffective, with no one there to help them maintain a clean and sober lifestyle. Studies have shown quitting cold turkey, especially when it comes to hard drugs, may increase the risk of experiencing an ultimate post-acute withdrawal phase by 95%. Quitting cold turkey without any medical or emotional support can increase your chances of relapse as well. The sudden non-existence of the dependent drugs puts your body in complete shock, and your nervous system may not know how to perform its functions as it should.


4. Frequency of Use

If you or your loved one was an addict, PAWS is more likely to affect the individual quicker if they took the drug on a daily basis or multiple times a day. This reason is that your body has gotten so used to functioning “normally” only when the drug is present, so, mentally and physically you now need the drug to function as you normally would.


5. Individual Reasons

Withdrawal is different for everyone, even though it exhibits the same type of symptoms. In many cases, two people may have been addicted to the same drug at equal doses and frequency. However, these two people could experience withdrawal for shorter or longer timeframes. For example, one person may experience withdrawal for one year, while the other may only experience it for four months. This factor is entirely dependent on how your immune system works and your genetic makeup.


Maintaining a Healthy Lifestyle

Another essential thing to consider while going through withdrawal is that your environment also affects your road to recovery for a sober lifestyle. Eating healthy and having balanced daily meals is crucial to nourish the brain and body. Also exercising, getting proper sleep, and not overworking your body to the point where you may crash is important. Withdrawal is a time to rest and rebuild while experiencing potential detox. The amount of activity also affects how severe you experience withdrawal as well as how you remain sober.

Common Side Effects of PAWS include:

  • Anxiety
  • Inability to think clearly or make a sound judgment
  • Depersonalization, this is the feeling where you do not feel like yourself and is unable to identify who you are, thus resulting in the development of alter egos
  • Severe depression
  • Being overly sensitive to touch, sound and light
  • Temporary and sometimes permanent dementia
  • Severe cases of OCD (obsessive-compulsive behavior)
  • Suicidal thoughts

Post-Acute Withdrawal takes place after the intial withdrawal experience. It’s your body and brain’s way of slowly returning to normal over a long period of time. If you feel a rollercoaster of symptoms that last several days each, remember that it’s completely normal. The best thing you can do is to push through until the brain chemistry rebalances to normal. With the help of loved ones or supportive professionals, you can successfully overcome Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. It might take a few months or even years, but don’t let that discourage you. The freedom from drug addiction, in the end, will be worth every temporary struggle and discomfort.

You’re Not Alone

At Prevail Intervention, we highly recommend that if you are experiencing this phase, please do not try to fix the situation on your own. Otherwise, you put yourself at risk of relapsing, and you may be of harm to yourself and loved ones.  Please seek immediate medical care. We have many helpful, caring professionals ready to answer any of your questions or concerns. Call out helpline for free if you want help finding a detox or treatment center near you. There are professional interventionists who will always put your best interest first and ensure that you maintain a healthy recovery.

Related Resources:

Getting Help for Addiction

Alcohol Withdrawal 

Drug Rehab Centers 

How Long Does Oxycodone Stay in Your System?

How Long Does Cocaine Stay in Your System?

Heroin Withdrawal Timeline

Alcoholism in the Family 

What is a Drug Intervention? 

Top Ten Signs of Drug Addiction

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome? Here we explain how to overcome the after-effects of addiction. Learn what to expect during substance abuse withdrawal. At Prevail Intervention, we help you succeed on your path to recovery.