The first step in recovering from a substance use disorder is often detoxing from any and all mind-altering substances that have been abused. Not everyone who begins recovery needs to detox, though, as not all individuals addicted to drugs and/or alcohol are physically dependent on them. But for those who find that they cannot stop using without developing withdrawal symptoms, detox is vital. Sometimes, detox wraps up but individuals are still dealing with withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be a sign of post-acute withdrawal syndrome.
When a person who has a dependence on drugs or alcohol is detoxing, they can experience symptoms that range in intensity from mild to crippling. In some cases, detox can be fatal, especially when done without the help of professionals. These symptoms differ based on several factors including the type of substance that is being abused. However, detoxing from most all habit-forming substances can create symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, diarrhea, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Detox is no walk in the park. It can take a few days to one to two weeks time for withdrawal symptoms to develop, peak, and then fade away. While the road through detox might not be easy, it is something that eventually ends. But for many in recovery, some withdrawal symptoms do not let up, rather continue on for much longer than expected. This is known as having post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS.
What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, occurs when a person who has already detoxed from addictive substances continues to experience withdrawal symptoms for longer periods of time than usual. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome isn’t something that occurs rarely, but quite the opposite. In fact, it is reported that upwards of 90 percent of recovering opioid users and 75 percent of recovering alcoholics develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome occurs mostly in those who are getting sober from opioids or alcohol, as well as benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Ativan. The most common symptoms that develop when someone is experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Clouded thinking
- Inability to focus
- Mood swings
Someone with post-acute withdrawal syndrome can experience any variety of these and other symptoms, making maintaining their recovery that much more difficult. And, unfortunately, these symptoms can continue on for different periods of time.
How Long Does Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Last?
Withdrawal symptoms, in general, tend to last anywhere from a few days to up to two weeks max. After that, the symptoms fade away and do not return. But, when someone is experiencing post-acute withdrawal syndrome, that is not the case.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can last anywhere from six months to two years on average. The length of time that someone deals with these symptoms can be based on a number of contributing factors, including:
- How long they actively abused drugs/alcohol
- What quantities drugs/alcohol were being abused
- If there is one or more underlying mental illnesses occurring
- What their past medical and psychological history is
Unfortunately, the longer that someone abuses a mind-altering substance, the more their brains are exposed to several dangers. The abuse of drugs and alcohol can change the way in which the brain functions by interfering with the production and transmission of neurotransmitters and well as causing certain areas of their brains to experience damage to their physical structures. So, for many people who develop post-acute withdrawal syndrome, it is likely that they have a past history of long-term and/or heavy abuse.
But, that is not always the case. Anyone can struggle with post-acute withdrawal symptoms. During that extended period of time, however, those who do have PAWS can do things to help minimize the intensity of their symptoms so they are more manageable.
Managing Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Just because you have post-acute withdrawal syndrome does not mean that you are in for a long haul of pain, distress, and irritability. There are several things that you can do to help mitigate the symptoms you experience.
Depending on the types of withdrawal symptoms you continue to experience, you may need mental, emotional, or physical tools to help you manage your situation. For instance, depression and anxiety are two of the most common symptoms experienced in those with post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Rather than trying to ride it out, speak to a therapist. Work with a professional who can not only help you cope with your mental health concerns but also potentially provide you with medication to help assist in the process of healing. The brain needs time to recover, as it does not just go back to normal functioning when drugs or alcohol are not being used. Therefore, the combination of therapeutic work and medication has proven highly effective for psychological symptoms such as these.
On the other hand, you may grapple with symptoms such as insomnia and trouble remembering things. For symptoms such as these, learning what works for you and what doesn’t is vital. If you struggle with insomnia, consider trying a number of different coping skills, such as limiting caffeine intake and developing a structured sleep schedule, can be extremely helpful. Or, if you find yourself constantly forgetting things or having difficulty retaining information, carry a notebook and pen with you. Take down notes that you can reference so that you do not worry about being forgetful or find yourself in a jam because you didn’t remember something.
Bottom line — post-acute withdrawal syndrome does not last forever. There is help and support available so that you can learn how to cope with PAWS and continue to achieve success in your recovery.
Drug Rehab in Los Angeles
If you are in recovery and are still experiencing withdrawal symptoms, do not be afraid to reach out to us right now. We are here to help support and guide you during this challenging time. If you have yet to get sober but want to, stop what you are doing and call us. Riviera Recovery can help you get through each step so that you can begin living a happy, healthy life of recovery.