May 10, 2018 Felicia Durling

The Importance of Understanding Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

After the detox period ends, positive feelings and well being should be on the rise. Expectations can lead to grave disappointments. Unfortunately, in managing symptoms of recovery, we have to be prepared for coping with disappointing events in our lives. Such is the case with PAWS, post-acute withdrawal syndrome. Being informed about and prepared for PAWS can significantly support charting the choppy waters that come with it.


PAWS, sometimes called protracted withdrawal, is defined as “the presence of substance-specific signs and symptoms common to acute withdrawal but persisting beyond the generally expected acute withdrawal timeframes” according to SAMHSA. Substance-specific symptoms as well as non-substance specific symptoms can suddenly show up, without relent, for long periods of time after the initial withdrawal period. These periods of time can last up to three years.

Different substances present different withdrawal symptoms during the initial detox, as they do during episodes of PAWS. Symptoms will vary in intensity and length of duration. Generally, someone experiencing PAWS will find they are having any of the following: anxiety, depression, cravings, irritability, difficulty sleeping, and low sex drive. PAWS symptoms can also affect thinking, such as: impaired decision making, trouble focusing, short-term memory issues, and more.

For many people PAWS can be a discouraging process to endure. While reliving the unpleasantness of prior detox, faith is easily challenged. After going through so much to get sober, after working so hard to learn to stay sober, why should suffering have to happen again? If suffering is going to keep happening, why bother staying sober? Without information, PAWS can be a blind spot. Without faith, PAWS can feel like punishment. Be informed about at least one thing: This too shall pass. It would be nice if symptoms of withdrawal were excluded in the ongoing cycle of life. Truth understands the bad will pass. Wisdom understands the good will as well.

Staying active, engaging the brain, and communicating with treatment providers are excellent methods for coping with PAWS. If anxiety, depression, or insomnia persist, it may be a cause for short term prescriptions or supplement use to ease the impact on quality of life.


We know how easy it is to lose faith in the process. The Center for Life Change strives to provide a process our clients can trust. We educate our clients about PAWS and other disruptions that may come as a result of substance abuse. Our clients leave confident in their ability to manage their lives. Let us help you learn to manage yours. Call us today for more information on our intensive outpatient programs of treatment (951) 775-4000.

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