A recent survey by a US website called postacutewithdrawal.org found that ninety per cent of respondents to their online survey reported post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These results come as a bit of a surprise because it was assumed that only a minority of people who break away from addiction experience symptoms beyond the first few weeks.
Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms Explained
When individuals break away from a chemical addiction, they will usually experience acute withdrawal symptoms. These occur because the body needs to adapt to not having alcohol or drugs in the bloodstream. The length of withdrawals is always going to depend on the type of drug that has been abused, but things usually improve after a few weeks.
Post-acute withdrawal symptoms tend to peak at about the six-month stage into recovery, but they can last anywhere up until two years. The acute symptoms are the most intense but PAWS can be a real cause of concern because the person may believe that they are never going to end – two years is a long time. If individuals are unaware of the existence of post-acute withdrawal symptoms, they may decide that this is evidence that life in recovery is not worth the effort of staying sober.
Common Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal
The most commonly reported symptom of PAWS is fuzzy thinking. Some describe this as being like there is cotton wool stuffed in their heads. The individual may struggle to concentrate and may be very forgetful. This type of mental fuzziness can lead many to feel overwhelmed and disillusioned with recovery. It is therefore vital that these people are aware of this condition and have tools for dealing with it.
Another common symptoms associated with PAWS is insomnia – it is often this that causes the fuzzy thinking. This occurs because those who have been abusing alcohol or drugs will often keep an erratic schedule for sleep. They may also have become dependent on these substances to help them fall asleep. This means that when the person becomes sober, it can take a long time to return to a normal sleeping pattern. If the individual becomes obsessed with their insomnia, it can actually exacerbate the situation. The person is unable to sleep because they are too worried about not being able to sleep.
The inability to sleep after becoming sober can lead to a lack of energy during the day. This symptom of PAWS can prevent the individual from doing the things they need to do in order to build a good life away from addiction. Lack of energy means the person does not really want to do anything or try anything new.
Other symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome include:
- cravings to use alcohol or drugs again
- extreme feelings of anxiousness
- mood swings
- pink cloud syndrome – this is when the person becomes so happy in recovery that they put their sobriety in danger (in other words, they believe their happiness means they are cured)
- inability to manage stress
- inability to manage interpersonal relationships.
How to Deal with Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms
PAWS can get in the way of recovery, so it is vital to deal with these symptoms. Most of the negative effects can be eradicated by eating a balanced diet and regular exercise. It is also recommended that people decide on a regular sleeping pattern and stick to this. In other words, they go to bed and get up at the same time every day; even if the person cannot sleep, they should stick to this schedule, as it will train their body to get into a rhythm.