Understanding Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is often the most significant threat to a person recovering from drug addiction or alcoholism.  Unfortunately, few people that haven’t already been through drug addiction treatment understand what PAWS is.  For people who have just detoxed or are in their first or even second year of recovery, this can be a significant threat.  PAWS symptoms have been known to linger for as long as two years if left untreated, and many of those that do not recognize their symptoms will go on to relapse.  However, post acute withdrawal syndrome can be easily treated and managed if the sufferer recognizes symptoms and warning signs and knows how to take action.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome occurs after a person detoxes from drugs or alcohol.  Detox is a natural process by which the body rids itself of the chemicals and substances that accumulated in the bloodstream.  In some cases detox can be dangerous; especially if from alcohol or barbiturates.  However, this process only lasts for between 7 to 10 days, after which time varying degrees of PAWS can set in.  This significantly increases the chance of relapse as the early warning signals of PAWS are often completely missed, ignored or misdiagnosed/misunderstood.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome causes uncomfortable, persistent and typically difficult-to-articulate feelings that can impact every aspect of a person’s life; and the lives of those around them.  In general PAWS symptoms are not intense or pronounced, but instead provide a consistent background of physical, emotional and mental discomfort.  Symptoms of PAWS include inability to control or manage stress, exhaustion, insomnia, decreased or impaired memory, depression, anxiety, and mania including inability to control emotions.  In most cases these feelings will go away after 3-9 months, but without proper education and treatment many addicts or alcoholics will relapse before that time.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome Treatment

Treatment for post acute withdrawal syndrome is actually quite easy and in most cases will serve to significantly improve every area of the patient’s life.  People who participate in a Florida drug rehab program, residential inpatient program, or a similar addiction treatment program will be provided with education and skills to recognize PAWS and mange it for an effective and lasting recovery.  These treatments include therapies and life skills such as:

  • Individual, one-on-one therapy with a professional experienced in PAWS
  • Group therapy with others suffering from or educated in PAWS
  • Family therapy to help all affected by addiction and post acute withdrawal syndrome
  • 12 Step programs such as Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous
  • Encouraging a state of spirituality to foster deeper and more meaningful healing
  • Proper Nutrition
  • Exercise

As long as a person recognizes PAWS symptoms and understands how to articulate these concerns to a therapist, counselor or other qualified person, there is no reason that Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome should ever cause a person to use again in an effort to seek relief.  If you or someone you love has just gone through detox and is experiencing signs of PAWS, it is imperative to seek assistance right away.  The future recovery and even the very life of that person could depend on it.

Was this page helpful?
Thank you for your feedback.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand.

Read our full editorial policy

While we are unable to respond to your feedback directly, we'll use this information to improve our online help.

You aren't alone. You deserve to get help.
Recovery First is located in Hollywood, Florida, which is easily accessible from Miami or Ft. Lauderdale. Our small groups means you get more one-on-one support and make stronger connections with the community. Take the next step toward recovery: learn more about our addiction treatment programs near Florida's Atlantic coast or learn about how rehab is affordable for everyone.