What's post-acute withdrawl? Part 1
Oct 22, 2013 / 5:00 am
There are two types of withdrawal. The first is called acute withdrawal; it's the kind you experience when you decide to quit using a substance. The symptoms may include shaking, sweating, muscle pain, vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety, restlessness, etc. These symptoms are easily treated at a detox centre, and will subside within 3-10 days.
Post-acute withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) is a cluster of symptoms that occur after the acute stage of withdrawal. These can last for weeks or years, depending on what you’ve taken, how much you’ve taken, and for how long. For example, a person who has used crystal meth on a daily basis for one year will probably suffer more profound post-acute symptoms than someone who has used marijuana every day for the same amount of time.
Knowing about PAWS is extremely important during early stage recovery (first months) because during this period people may think they’re going crazy, or may say, “What’s the use…if this is recovery I may as well use again.” It’s a dangerous time for relapse because the symptoms can be very uncomfortable. And they may last from a few months to a few years.
Here’s how I’d like you to think about PAWS: Imagine a large bell and an iron hammer. The bell is your nervous system (brain included) and the hammer is the drug (alcohol is a drug). Every time you abuse a drug it is like hitting the bell with the hammer. It vibrates louder and faster each time you insult it with drug abuse. If you do this year after year, it will not stop vibrating the moment you put down the hammer; the bell is going to take some time to stop. And the symptoms you experience while you’re waiting are called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.
These symptoms may include the following, and more:
- An inability to concentrate: You can’t focus on one thing at a time; you’re thoughts are scattered.
- Memory problems: You’re reading a novel, and by the time you read one page, you forget what you read at the top of it. You may even find it difficult to learn and retain new information and skills.
- Difficulty managing emotions: Someone says something that annoys you and you feel like breaking his face – or crying.
- Sleep disturbances: You’re restless all night or you can’t get to sleep until late or you wake up with a zing at 3 a.m. You may even have bizarre, vibrant dreams that may include using substances.
- Coordination problems: You may trip and fall easily; you may feel dizzy and imbalanced; or your reflexes may be slow. Many people experience traffic or work mishaps during this period.
- Sensitivity to stress: You’re walking down the street, a car’s breaks squeal and you feel like jumping out of your skin. Things that never stressed you before now irritate you.
Post-acute withdrawal may be uncomfortable but the silver lining is that PAWS is an indicator that the vibration of the bell is slowing down; your body is now healing itself; and that over time you will feel much better. You have two choices: you can either suffer the pain that causes more suffering (problematic substance use) or you can suffer the pain that causes healing (PAW); either way, you’re going to suffer. The first leads to more suffering while the second leads to healing. You decide which you will choose.
Read more Breaking Through! articles
- Driving under the influence Dec 3
- Triggers & cravings: Part 1 Nov 19
- What's post-acute withdrawl? Part 2 Nov 5
- What's post-acute withdrawl? Part 1 Oct 22
- What causes addiction? Part 2 of 2 Oct 8
- What causes addiction? Part 1 of 2 Sep 24
- I wanna be a social drinker! Sep 10
- Why women get drunker, faster Aug 27
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