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Withdrawal symptoms are often a difficult and frustrating part of the recovery process and can leave people feeling hopeless and alone in their path to healing. Many people’s withdrawal symptoms last about three to six weeks after substance use has stopped. 

However, some people report withdrawal symptoms returning weeks, months, or even a year into their recovery. This resurgence of withdrawal symptoms is often referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). 

PAWS can often be frightening and confusing. The symptoms can lead people to relapse even after progress in their path to recovery. Understanding what these symptoms are and why they’re returning can be crucial in maintaining optimism and remaining sober. 

Withdrawal From Substances

After beginning the detox process and abstaining from previously-abused substances, withdrawal symptoms are often reported for about three to six weeks. These symptoms vary from person to person depending on the substances that they used and their body’s specific reaction to abstinence. Still, the most common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Tremors

These symptoms are primarily thought of as the body attempting to cope with the fact that substances it’s been dependent on are now absent. 

What Is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

On the other hand, the symptoms associated with PAWS can occur much further into the recovery process because it’s thought of as the mind’s way of coping without these substances rather than the body’s. Like the body, the brain has to learn to naturally produce chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins that it previously received from substances, which can be a long and often taxing process. 

Symptoms associated with PAWS often present themselves in especially stressful situations for the brain, including interactions with people, places, or things previously associated with using substances. If the brain is exposed to these stressful environments, it expects that flood of chemicals that it’s used to receiving. 

However, when it doesn’t receive these chemicals from the substances, the symptoms of PAWS can manifest. This is why the symptoms of PAWS can feel sporadic or random since they can be triggered at any time by seemingly random things. 

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Symptoms

Like initial withdrawal symptoms that occur earlier in the recovery process, PAWS symptoms can manifest differently depending on the person. However, it’s important to note that, while the symptoms themselves may differ, they will always be temporary. The most common symptoms of PAWS include:

  • Memory recall difficulty
  • Irritability
  • Increased anxiety
  • Depressed mood
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Inability to focus
  • Mood swings

Recognizing these traits as withdrawal symptoms can be crucial to recovery and relapse prevention. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to avoid any withdrawal symptoms during the recovery process, and the symptoms of PAWS are no exception to this rule. However, by recognizing and understanding them, you’ll be able to learn to manage them, feel better both physically and emotionally, and reduce the chances of relapse. 

How Can You Manage Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

Because symptoms of PAWS can last for months or even years, learning how to manage these symptoms is crucial to maintaining a positive outlook and staying on a healthy path toward recovery. Talking to a doctor or treatment professional about how you may be able to treat these symptoms can be beneficial. 

There are many ways to manage PAWS. Participating in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), practicing mindfulness, participating in the recovery community, and implementing coping mechanisms into your daily life are all methods for preventing relapse. 

Here are some tips for managing PAWS symptoms and preventing relapse:

Be Active in the Recovery Community

Attending meetings, meeting with mental health professionals in a group or individual setting, and being honest about what you’re going through can give you a sense of support and remind you that you’re not alone in your journey.

Practice Mindfulness

Remaining present and aware of your body and emotions will help you identify the symptoms of PAWS, what triggered them, and the steps you can take to return to a better mental state.

Find New Hobbies

You can also integrate new hobbies into your daily life that boost your mood. Exercising, for example, can be a powerful tool in maintaining a healthy body, mind, and spirit. 

Keep a Journal

Often, documenting your experiences and reflecting upon them can help you see things in a new light and may even allow you to recognize patterns in your thinking or what’s causing these symptoms to flare up. 

Don’t Bend Your Recovery Rules

Sometimes the urge to use substances can be so overpowering that you begin to bargain or think that using in moderation may be alright. Maintaining strict rules for yourself of not breaking your sobriety for any reason is crucial to remaining sober. 

Overcoming Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Experiencing symptoms of PAWS can feel discouraging after you’ve worked hard to stay sober and on the right path to recovery. As difficult as these symptoms can be, they’re only temporary. Building and maintaining support systems, integrating coping mechanisms into your daily life, and recognizing these symptoms for what they are will help you manage them and, ultimately, overcome them. 

The path to healing is not always easy, and progress doesn’t always feel linear. However, the most important thing is that you don’t lose hope and continue fighting for your right to a happy life free of substances.

Because PAWS symptoms often present themselves well into the recovery process, people can sometimes feel that they’re doing something wrong in their recovery or are bound to relapse. This isn’t true. Experiencing these symptoms is a natural and unavoidable part of the recovery process, but we’re here to help. At West Coast Recovery Centers, we can help you find your way back onto a healthy path toward recovery if you’re feeling lost. We understand that everyone’s journey is unique, so our professionals will work with you to find a recovery plan that works specifically for you. We provide various treatment options, and you’ll have the opportunity to communicate with your support team about what is or isn’t working for you. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction or PAWS, call West Coast Recovery Centers at (760) 492-6509 to begin your journey toward healing.