Addiction Treatment professionals agree that Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (P.A.W.S.) is one of the most difficult challenges that Alcoholics or Addicts face in the early stages of their recovery. It is a multi-faceted group of symptoms that cause the individual to crave a drink or a drug even though everything is going well for them and they are following through with all their recommended post treatment activities. Unfortunately, this relapse precursor is especially difficult to deal with, because it is not emphasized enough by most treatment centers during treatment; without education about this topic, the substance abuser has no defense against it.
The discomfort of the initial withdrawal from drugs or alcohol is managed through a medical detoxification process commonly referred to as "detox". Symptoms are minimized during the initial 3 to10 day period when the body is in acute withdrawal and adjusting to not having these substances. Detoxification does not eliminate all of the substances from the body, nor does it repair the damage to brain, organs, central nervous system, or neurotransmitters that have been caused by drinking and drug abuse.
The biggest mistake that alcoholics and addicts make is to think that the detoxification process is the end of the withdrawal process; that once you leave detox all of the substances are out of the body and you're cured. Nothing could be further from the truth; detoxification actually sets the stage for the onset of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.
Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome - What it is and Why it Happens
After detoxification, for reasons science doesn't completely understand, the body can react as if it was still on drugs. One part of the explanation for this phenomenon is the body's own natural cleansing process. As it flushes the chemical remnants of alcohol and drugs from organs and intramuscular hiding places, it hits the bloodstream and triggers a physical craving - much like the sensation of smelling popcorn and then wanting to see a movie.
In addition to this physical component, any type of mental, emotional or physical stress can trigger a desire to drink or use drugs. When an alcoholic or addict feels pain or is stressed out, they remember one thing: if they pick up a drink or a drug, the pain and stress will go away. This is because the area of the brain that affects judgment has been damaged and they do not remember how bad things were. Most importantly, they do not connect their substance abuse to what they are feeling at that moment, and so they very often relapse.
Symptoms of Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome
Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome produces a wide variety of side effects and symptoms that make no sense to the addict experiencing them, or to the friends, family and employers observing them.
These symptoms include but are not limited to:
Lack of coordination
Walking into things
Thinking "I'm crazy"
Increased sensitivity to pain
Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a disconcerting yet normal part of the recovery process. Thankfully these symptoms disappear over time, and in most cases the brain and body damage is repaired. The difficulty for someone in the early stages of recovery is that these feelings, thoughts and physical side effects can be so overwhelming that they trigger a desire to drink or use drugs again just to get relief and when they do this, they start the vicious cycle all over again.