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What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome?

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When someone makes the brave decision to finally stop using drugs or alcohol, they may experience physical and psychological symptoms known as withdrawal. Typically, withdrawal symptoms last for only a few days and subside over time, as the body learns to live without the addictive substance. However, for some, symptoms last for weeks or months — a condition referred to as post-acute withdrawal syndrome or PAWS. If you are concerned that your cravings or symptoms have lasted too long and are wondering what is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, it’s helpful to learn more about this condition so you can get the help you need.

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)? 

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, refers to withdrawal symptoms that continue to impact individuals for weeks or months after they have completely withdrawn from drugs or alcohol. It is normal for people who are detoxing from drugs and alcohol to develop withdrawal symptoms that last for several days to a week or more, but it is less common when some of those symptoms continue.

This syndrome, while often not widely discussed, is common and can create additional hurdles to recovery. According to the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, approximately 90% of all recovering opioid addicts develop PAWS. Additionally, roughly 70% of people recovering from alcohol and prescription medications also develop PAWS. Because withdrawal symptoms can be uncomfortable or intense, prolonged withdrawal can make recovering addicts use again in order to relieve the symptoms.

Why Do Some People Develop PAWS?

When people abuse drugs or alcohol it impacts the way their bodies and brains work. Over time, the body depends on the substance in order to function “normally.” When the addictive substance is no longer being consumed, the body — which has come to rely on the drug in order to function — has to scramble to learn to operate. The physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms that someone feels when they stop using drugs or alcohol are are the body’s way of trying to reset.

When properly managed — especially with the help of qualified addiction treatment specialists — withdrawal symptoms begin to ease in a matter of days and taper off for good. However, this isn’t always the case. So what is post-acute withdrawal syndrome and why do some people develop this condition? There are a number of reasons why someone may develop PAWS, including:

  • The type of substance that was being abused
  • The length of time the substance was being abused for
  • How much of the substance was being abused
  • The presence of mental health disorders 

While post-acute withdrawal syndrome can happen to anyone, it is more common in those who have abused highly addictive substances like opioids or benzodiazepines. It is not uncommon for long-term alcoholics to develop PAWS during the early part of their recovery journey.

What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome and How is it Treated?

Officially, post-acute withdrawal syndrome is not a clinical diagnosis. For this reason, among many others, it is paramount to ensure that you get help from a qualified addiction treatment facility. Addiction specialists are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of PAWS and modify treatment plans in order to address prolonged withdrawal symptoms. Thankfully, through a combination of evidence-based therapies and holistic approaches, PAWS is a highly treatable condition.


Some of the most common post-acute withdrawal syndrome symptoms include symptoms related to depression, anxiety, and general emotional distress. Different forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, individual therapy, and trauma therapy can help to alleviate some of the symptoms that a person is experiencing due to PAWS. Additionally, for many, the most difficult part of leaving addiction behind is the psychological component. Therapy helps people learn coping skills for managing cravings.


In some instances, certain medications can help to reduce PAWS symptoms. For example, naltrexone is a medication for use in the management of cravings for those recovering from alcohol addiction. Methadone or buprenorphine are medications that not only help reduce cravings, but also curb withdrawal symptoms that opioid users experience. As a result, these medications can make the symptoms associated with PAWS less overbearing and easier to manage.

Holistic Strategies

The effects of addiction impact every area of our lives. Poor physical hygiene, lack of sleep, unhealthy eating habits can all contribute to unbalance and the onset of more prolonged withdrawal symptoms. Incorporating holistic strategies, such as: yoga, mindfulness, exercises, and a well-balanced diet can improve recovery outcomes and reduce cravings and other side effects.

How Specialized Treatment Minimizes Risks of PAWS 

When considering what is post-acute withdrawal syndrome, it is also important to consider how specialized treatment can help. There are several reasons why seeking professional, specialized treatment for addiction is so incredibly important. One of those reasons is to help reduce the risks posed by PAWS. Specialized addiction treatment centers know how to help individuals manage and mitigate their withdrawal symptoms.

Specialized treatment, such as that offered through a professional detox program, inpatient treatment, partial hospitalization programs, intensive outpatient programs, and other outpatient programs, can all work to reduce the risk of PAWS. This is possible because specialized treatment can:

  • Provide quick, effective care on the spot
  • Assist individuals in safely detoxing from drugs or alcohol
  • Connecting individuals to therapists who can help them identify the issues that trigger their substance use disorder and overall stress
  • Allow for professionals to have eyes on the individual, encouraging continued care and adjustments to treatment as time goes on

If you are in the process of detoxing from drugs or alcohol, you may be wondering if you need treatment for post-acute withdrawal syndrome. This may be a concern of yours especially if you are continuing to experience symptoms that you believe should have dissipated by now. It is imperative to seek treatment for post-acute withdrawal syndrome as quickly as possible to help reduce the intensity of symptoms and ensure that you stay on the road to recovery. If you are at all concerned that you may be experiencing PAWS, reach out for help as quickly as possible.

Drug and Alcohol Rehab in Orange County, CA 

At Pacific Sands Recovery Center in Orange County, CA, we understand the many challenges that individuals face when attempting to recover from active addiction. We know that it is not easy, but we also know that it is possible. If you are struggling with a substance use disorder and need help, do not wait any longer. Visit our website right now to learn more about our programming options or call us at (949) 426-7962 to speak with one of our compassionate team members. 


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