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Could I Have Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS?

Aug 17, 2007
There is a group of symptoms that arise as a drug addict or alcoholic attempts abstinence from their chosen mood altering chemicals. These symptoms which can include sleeplessness, unclear thinking and stress, generally appear 7 to 14 days into abstinence during the stabilization phase. This impairment is recognized as PAWS or Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and can last 6 to 18 months after the addicts' last use.

While in active addiction the addict/alcoholic experiences a disruption to normal brain activity which impairs clear thinking and emotion expression. Additionally, short-term memory loss, lack of coordination, sleep disturbances and stress are all part of PAWS and can make the recovery process sometimes long and arduous. As a result of continued abuse of drugs and/or alcohol the brain needs to make an adjustment in order to 'right itself' as neurotransmitters return to normalcy and acclimate to a life without mood altering chemicals.

Essentially there is 3 major ways that Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome can impact a recovering person. They are:
1. Cognitive - racing or recycling thoughts with impaired concentration and intention span
2. Emotional - either an absence or an excess of emotions with a tendency towards hyper reaction
3. Memory - short-term (30 minutes) memory loss is often the most noted problem

These issues usually affect a person early in recovery so it is imperative that family, friends and colleagues recognize there presence. Another factor that greatly affects the addict is stress. As a result, the recovering individual needs to understand that the lowering of stress is vital and that specific lifestyle changes need to occur. Healthy habits such as limiting caffeine, getting 8-10 hours of sleep, eating three balanced meals per day and exercising 3+ times weekly will reap great benefits.

Additionally, meditation and/or other relaxation exercises are often recommended by healthcare professionals and implemented by Drug and Alcohol Treatment Centers as part of their scheduled programs.

Lastly, involvement in Alcoholics Anonymous, which means regular meeting attendance and an ongoing relationship with an AA Sponsor, is mandatory for several proven reasons:
1. The building of a sober support system outside the circle of family and friends
2. The introduction of the 12 Steps of Recovery as set down in the AA 'Big Book'.
3. A relationship with AA Sponsor is one of the cornerstones of AA and a key component of the recovery process
4. Active AA participation will reduce the severity of PAWS.
The implementation of the above should go a long way towards restoring the recovering alcoholic/addict to health.

There is also another school of thought and treatment for opiate dependent PAWS sufferers which was somewhat controversial at one time but has gained general acceptance in the recovering community.

Because PAWS can last for years, if not a lifetime, the best treatment for opiate dependents can often be a maintenance program issuing drugs such as methadone or buprenorphine. This course of action is meant to restore the brain's chemistry to a more natural state thereby alleviating the common Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome symptoms of craving, irregular sleep patterns, lethargia and mood swings.
About the Author
Pick up your Free Recovery Rolodex, Over 88 pages of self help and recovery tips, resources and links to enhance your life in addiction recovery.The author, Bill Urell MA.CAAP-II, is an addictions therapist at a leading residential treatment center. He teaches healthy life styles and life skills. Join our growing community. Tell your story! Visit: http://www.AddictionRecoveryBasics.com/
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