What To Expect With Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

With consistent use of most addictive substances comes some degree of physical dependency. This means that the body comes to rely on the substance to function normally. When the substance is taken away, the body can react in a variety of ways. These reactions can be as minor as mood swings, to as severe as seizures or cardiac arrest. Depending on the severity of dependency, most withdrawal symptoms subside within a few weeks. But, for some people, one or more withdrawal symptoms may linger months or years into sobriety. This is something called post-acute withdrawal symptom, or PAWS.

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome affects every person differently. Some people can struggle with PAWS for the rest of their lives while others may only experience it for a few months. Sometimes symptoms can go away completely but briefly return later in life. For people in recovery, it’s important to learn the signs of PAWS so that it can be dealt with appropriately. Those that are unaware of post-acute withdrawal may think they are doomed. This can be a trigger for relapse.

Fortunately, symptoms of PAWS are not physical or dangerous like the withdrawal experienced in the first few weeks of recovery. PAWS symptoms are psychological in nature and can be treated in a variety of ways. Lifestyle changes and coping skills can also play a role in the severity of post-acute withdrawal symptoms. There are also medications that can be very effective. Substance abuse can permanently change the way chemicals in the brain work. Sometimes this needs to be corrected with medication in order to feel normal or happy. Here are some things to expect from post acute withdrawal symptoms and ways that they can be treated:


Depression is one of the most common symptoms of PAWS. This is because drugs and alcohol affect the parts of the brain that are responsible for pleasure and reward. If these parts of the brain are damaged, it can be difficult to feel happiness or reward while sober. There are a variety of ways to treat depression. Meditation, exercise, yoga, journaling, dieting, and talk therapy are all proven to treat depression. There are also several medications that are extremely effective at treating depression. It’s important to try meditation and exercise before going on medication though. This is because depression is extremely common in early recovery. Sometimes this depression is only temporary. Medication should be used as a last resort.


Anxiety is another extremely common symptom of post acute withdrawal syndrome. Just like depression, there are many coping skills and lifestyle changes that can affect the severity of anxiety. Meditation has proven to be extremely useful for those that suffer from anxiety. There are also non-narcotic medications that can treat anxiety without triggering another drug habit.

depressed woman


Sleep disorders affect many people in addiction recovery. Insomnia can be one of the most frustrating and unbearable symptoms of PAWS. Insomnia can also lead to poor health, decreased concentration, depression, and lack of motivation, so it’s important to find an effective way to help you sleep. Meditation has also proven to be extremely useful for those who have trouble sleeping. There are even specific styles of meditation that are specifically geared toward sleep and relaxation. Exercise is also proven to be highly effective in treating insomnia. Sometimes a person just has too much energy to sleep. Exercise can release this extra energy and make for a good night’s sleep. If meditation and exercise don’t work, there are non-habit forming drugs that can help with sleep. Melatonin is another natural sleep aid that can help you stay asleep throughout the night.

Lack of Concentration

Some people in recovery find that they have lost much if their ability to concentrate. This is another symptom that is caused by damage to chemical balances in the brain. It can also be the result of other more serious symptoms, like depression or insomnia. Sometimes treating other symptoms first may improve concentration. Again, meditation is a very useful tool. Meditation can help clear mental fog or racing thoughts. If all else fails, there are non-narcotic medications for concentration.  

Anger and Mood Swings

Anger, irritability, and mood swings are all common among those with post acute withdrawal syndrome. Unlike other symptoms, there are not many medical treatments for these symptoms unless they are a result of a co-occurring disorder, like bipolar disorder. Meditation and exercise can be useful for treating these symptoms. Talk therapy and anger management training can also be very useful.

Overall, post-acute withdrawal syndrome is not life ending and there are many ways to live healthily and happily so that it does not negatively affect your life. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and practicing mindfulness through meditation can treat, or even cure, many of the psychological symptoms that are a result of long-term substance abuse. Talking with a therapist can also help you determine what’s working and how to even further enhance life in recovery.

Seeking Treatment for Alcoholism and Addiction

If you or a loved one has a problem with alcoholism or addiction and want to experience recovery in a thriving community with lots of people just like you, then call the professionals at Stout Street today at 866-722-7040. Our trained staff is standing by to take your call and help you in any way we can. We know how difficult of a decision this can be and we know what it takes to ensure you find your own personal path in recovery.  You no longer have to do it alone, so give us a call today and find the happy and sober life you’ve always dreamed of.