People who have developed a long-term addiction to drugs or alcohol experience a range of withdrawal symptoms when they quit using or drinking, including nausea, chills, vomiting, body aches, insomnia, mood swings and even hallucinations. Though these symptoms can be intense, they rarely last longer than a couple of weeks, especially when you undergo medically supervised detoxification in an accredited treatment center.
While this initial withdrawal phase is short-lived, some people in recovery experience a prolonged recurrence of symptoms known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). Not everyone undergoes PAWS, but those with a lengthy, severe relationship with drugs or alcohol are more likely to encounter it.
Why Does PAWS Happen?
Like addiction itself, PAWS is a complex condition with many underlying causes. The medical community has yet to pinpoint why some recovering addicts experience PAWS – and, indeed, PAWS has yet to become an official medical diagnosis. However, many addiction experts theorize the various chemical changes addiction causes may lead to the development of PAWS.
Prolonged drug and alcohol use affects your brain’s reward and pleasure center, specifically the way your neurons send and receive “messenger” chemicals called neurotransmitters. When you stop using these substances, your brain can no longer reach equilibrium by itself, which could result in the constellation of symptoms that characterize PAWS.
Habit is another reason PAWS may manifest in recovering addicts. When drugs and alcohol have taken over your life, it can be challenging to fill that void and make sense of your new sober lifestyle. The loss of a familiar routine and feeling as if you have too much time on your hands could exacerbate psychological responses such as depression, fatigue or cravings for your substance of use.
Healthy Ways to Deal With PAWS
PAWS symptoms can be a significant obstacle on your path to long-term recovery, but some practical self-care techniques can help you overcome PAWS and allow you to keep making positive steps toward sustained sobriety. Here are some things you can try.
- Regularly check in with your support system, whether you attend meetings in person or schedule a call or a video chat.
- Stick with a consistent sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting the recommended seven to nine hours of restful sleep per night.
- Be patient with yourself. Understand that PAWS is not permanent, and that you’ll feel better in time.
- Help yourself stay motivated by celebrating recovery milestones.
- Make a list of your negative triggers – such as loneliness and boredom – and have self-care strategies in place for coping with them when they arise.
- Set aside time in your daily routine for a wellness check-in. Are you drinking enough water? Are you comfortable? Do you feel any pent-up anxiety, tension or stress?
Your Sober Solution
Addiction recovery is just like the healing process associated with any other severe illness. It will take time and perseverance to regain your mental, physical and spiritual well-being. Understanding PAWS and preparing yourself to combat it with a robust support network, the appropriate recovery environment and healthy coping skills can help ensure the unpleasant symptoms don’t lead you to relapse. If you have questions about sober living at Segue Recovery Support, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.