Recovery from substance abuse addiction can often be a long process, which is why many people continue to use. It is not an easy fact to swallow, but despite the process, sobriety and the withdrawal process will always a better option.
One of the most common concerns from people who wish to stop using drugs is the initial withdrawal process. Everyone is familiar with the most common symptoms of migraines, nausea, anxiety, and irritability, but for the most part, those go away after a day or two.
But what about the long-term withdrawal symptoms? Most people are not aware of Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms, how common they are, and how easy they are to cope with.
What Are Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms?
For every person who chooses to stop using substances or drugs or alcohol, there will always be some damage that has been done to the brain, body and emotional state. After the initial withdrawal process, there is something called Post Acute Withdrawal symptoms, and they are very important to be able to identify.
Studies suggest that Post Acute Withdrawal symptoms occur due to a stress response of the brain and body from lack of the substances that they have been relying on for so long. For example, many drugs increase dopamine in the brain, and when it is no longer present, this can cause many people to experience depression or anxiety.
Having a clear and compassionate understanding of Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms can often save a person from relapse. For example, during this stage of their recovery, many people assume that they should be feeling 100% better, and their life should be completely manageable at this point.
However, Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms can often last anywhere from 1-18 months after the last use and can affect each person a little differently. These symptoms are often more psychologically and mood-related, and can often seem like a roller coaster of emotions.
What are Common Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms?
In comparison to the more physical symptoms of the initial withdrawal phase such as migraines, body aches, cramping, nausea, and constipation or diarrhea, PAWS effect people in more subtle, mental ways.
Some of the most common Post-Acute Withdrawal Symptoms are:
- Sleep Disturbances
- Irregular Appetite Patterns
- Sensitivity to Daily Stressors
- Trouble Concentration
- Memory Problems
These can be very frustrating for someone who is newly recovering and trying to regain their place in society. It can sometimes feel like everything is piling up and you just can’t climb out. This is what leads many people back to a relapse. However, there are a lot of different coping alternatives than going back to drugs and alcohol.
Ways to Cope
While each person is different, the general outline for coping with Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms are primarily the same.
First and foremost, it can often be crucial for a person to regularly see a therapist. If the individual is participating in a Partial Hospitalization or Outpatient treatment program, this can be very beneficial to balancing daily life and their PAWS.
After that is incorporating healthy life skills into their daily routine. For many people with addiction, healthy daily routines were easy to throw to the wayside in search of the next high, so relearning these skills can be crucial to a more manageable life. For example, balancing work and relaxation, positive social interactions, sleep hygiene, practicing goal setting, and healthy time management skills have been proven to increase overall life satisfaction and manage stress.
It seems pretty basic, but being able to just identify a mental state as being caused by Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms can often be enough to help a person through them.
For example, if someone finds that they get stressed out throughout their day with work, recovery, and balancing life skills, simply addressing the fact that they are in early recovery and are going through PAWS can bring them to a state of acceptance and willingness to move forward.
It can be very hard sometimes in early recovery to not want everything to be perfect and to get life back on track as soon as possible, but it is important to remember the amount of damage we did to ourselves and to be gentle on our own process.
Some people experience very mild Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms, and others experience very intensely drawn-out symptoms. This is often determined by the particular drugs that were abused, the frequency of use, the length of time used, and any other medications or mental disorders that a person deals with.
Again, this is why it is so important to be gentle and compassionate on ourselves during the first few months to a year of recovery, and just understanding that this is a normal part of the process.
It can often be very difficult to learn to live a new life of sobriety, without the use of drugs or alcohol. For this reason, it is crucial that individuals find healthy outlets for coping with and managing emotional states and behaviors.
Many people will try to go back to old behaviors such as getting into relationships or developing damaging new ones such as hyperfocus on making money. Both of these are the most common pitfalls of any newly recovering addict or alcoholic, so it is important to find healthy hobbies and activities that promote a positive and constructive new lifestyle.
Engaging in positive activities helps to improve our overall well being, when we find something that creates motivation and drives in us, it pushes us to continue doing well and feeling better in our sobriety.
The key to living a happy and healthy sobriety, in spite of Post Acute Withdrawal Symptoms, is to find joy in our new life. Whether it be through working a 12 step program, volunteering at shelters, or even through a healthy diet and exercise lifestyle, finding joy and passion is crucial when we are on our path through the emotional roller coaster stage of early sobriety.