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Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

alcoholic man

Stages of Withdrawal

Withdrawal from drugs and alcohol involves two distinct phases:  acute withdrawal and post-acute withdrawal.  When individuals experience symptoms common to the post-acute period they are diagnosed with post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS).

Acute Withdrawal: Usually lasts 1-2 weeks. During this stage, you may experience physical withdrawal symptoms. But every drug is different, and every person is different.

Post-Acute Withdrawal: A group of symptoms that occur after acute withdrawal.  In the alcoholic, these symptoms appear 14 days into abstinence, after stabilization from acute withdrawal.  During this stage you’ll have fewer physical symptoms, but more emotional and psychological withdrawal symptoms.

Post-acute withdrawal occurs because your brain chemistry is gradually returning to normal. As your brain improves the levels of your brain chemicals fluctuate as they approach the new equilibrium causing post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

 Most people experience some post-acute withdrawal symptoms. Whereas in the acute stage of withdrawal every person is different, in post-acute withdrawal most people have the same symptoms. Recovery from PAWS usually takes somewhere between six and 24 months.

Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Inability to think clearly

Memory problems

Emotional overreactions or numbness

Sleep Disturbances

Problems with physical coordination

Stress sensitivity

Post-acute withdrawal can feel like a rollercoaster of symptoms. In the beginning, symptoms will change from minute to minute and hour to hour. Later as you recover further they will disappear for a few weeks or months only to return again. As you continue to recover the good stretches will get longer and longer. But the bad periods of post-acute withdrawal can be just as intense and last just as long.

Each post-acute withdrawal episode usually lasts for a few days. Once you’ve been in recovery for a while, you will find that each post-acute withdrawal episode usually lasts for a few days. There is no obvious trigger for most episodes.

Learn How to Treat PAWS


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