The Second Drug Withdrawal Syndrome: PAWS

As the parent of a child with substance abuse disorder, you probably know what an acute withdrawal phase of an illicit drug is.  Detoxing isn’t easy and should be monitored, especially if it is withdrawing from alcohol.

Detoxing often has flu like symptoms: shaking, aches and pains and usually lasts four to ten days.  Did you know that this is not the only phase that your child will experience?  One called PAWS or post-acute withdrawal syndrome can surface usually fourteen days after the acute withdrawal phase.

Later in the process, symptoms will disappear for months or weeks, come and go unexpectedly, only to return again for a year or two.  Each episode will last two to three days because the brain, without illicit drugs, is readjusting to neurophysical changes, without being flooded with dopamine.

Whereas the acute withdrawal syndrome’s effects are mostly physical, the PAWS effects are more mental and present itself as:

  • mood swings
  • anxiety
  • low enthusiasm
  • cravings
  • disturbed sleep
  • depression
  • memory problems
  • dizziness
  • balance and reflex problems
  • heightened risk of accidents
  • difficulty coping with stress
  • lack of energy

PAWS occurs most commonly and intensely among individuals with alcohol and opioid and “benzos” addictions.  A person’s age, general state of health, and how long and how severe the addiction was will all determine how severe the PAWS will strike the former user.

As symptoms tend to peak four to eight week after detoxing, PAWS can often coincide with the completion of thirty to sixty day addiction rehab programs.  The timing of PAWS can make your child vulnerable to relapse.

Because of the symptoms, a parent can mistakenly think that their child has “picked up” again.  Don’t accuse!  What your child needs to do for her self is:

  • identify emotional triggers like boredom, loneliness, and anger
  • find time for relaxation
  • maintain regular sleep patterns
  • consume diet high in fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed foods
  • get regular exercise
  • practice self-kindness
  • realize that PAWS is not going to last forever!

American Addiction Centers.org

Of course, your child should keep up with their sobriety meetings during these trying times!

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson

Wesley Cullen Davidson is an award-winning freelance writer and journalist specializing in parenting. Currently, she is targeting her writing about recovery to parents whose children have substance abuse disorders.