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What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) is a condition that individuals may experience after abstaining from a substance of abuse. Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition can help you intervene if you or someone you know begins showing them or experiences a recurrence. In this article, we’ll answer your questions about what post-acute withdrawal syndrome is, what signs to watch for, how this condition affects individuals, and what treatments are available so you can stay ahead of your health.

What Is Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, also called post-withdrawal syndrome or prolonged withdrawal syndrome, is a condition in which the symptoms of withdrawal from a substance of abuse persist for weeks, months, or even years after cessation. It’s most common in individuals who previously abused alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids, but it can also occur in individuals who stop using other psychoactive substances. While the causes of this syndrome are still under investigation, scientists suggest that physical changes to the brain brought on by increasing tolerance levels during addiction may result in PAWS symptoms. 

What Are the Signs of Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Common symptoms of PAWS align with the characteristics of anxiety and mood disorders. These symptoms can fluctuate over time, becoming more severe during certain periods and then going into remission at others. Signs of PAWS include:

  • Insomnia or other sleep disturbances.
  • Irritability, agitation, and hostility.
  • Decreased stress tolerance.
  • Impaired cognitive function.
  • Lack of enthusiasm or motivation.
  • Mood swings.
  • Fatigue.
  • Apathy.
  • Substance cravings.

How Does Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Affect the Mind and Body?

If you or someone you know develops or is at risk of developing PAWS, it’s helpful to know how the condition can affect the mind and body. People with PAWS are likely to notice differences in their cognition and mood, which can affect their behaviour. While every individual may experience their symptoms differently, it’s important to be aware of how these symptoms can manifest so you can get the help you need.

For example, low energy and irritability may lead to agitation, impatience, and social withdrawal. Changes in sleeping and eating patterns can also be symptoms. Those with PAWS may also notice problems with thinking, memory, and decision-making, which can cause forgetfulness or impulsivity. Recognizing these behaviours in someone at risk for PAWS can signal that it’s time to get help.

What Treatments Are Available for Post-acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Fortunately, treatments are available to help you and your loved ones cope with PAWS. Common treatments for PAWS include:

  • Awareness: Simply becoming more educated about the symptoms of PAWS can make them easier to identify and live with.
  • Lifestyle changes: Building healthy lifestyle habits can improve symptoms. Eating well, developing good sleep habits, and practicing self-care can help.
  • Medication: Some medications can reduce substance cravings, prevent relapse, and reduce symptoms.
  • Therapy and support: Finding a support group or getting help from a qualified mental health professional can benefit both the person with PAWS and their loved ones.

Life with PAWS can be challenging, but you’re not alone. There are many resources available to help people with PAWS live better. Whether you or a loved one is living with this condition, there are steps you can take to manage the symptoms and feel in control of your health and wellness.

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