How Long Does PAWS Last?

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Addiction and withdrawal are relatively common terms. Even if you’ve never struggled with compulsive substance abuse, you probably have a general idea of what these words mean. But certain aspects of addiction and withdrawal, such as PAWS, are far less widely known. In today’s post, we answer a variety of PAWS-related questions, such as what are the symptoms of PAWS, who is at risk for PAWS, and how long does PAWS last?

What Is PAWS?

PAWS stands for post-acute withdrawal syndrome. It may also be referred to by a variety of other terms, including post-withdrawal syndrome, protracted withdrawal syndrome, and prolonged withdrawal syndrome.

As these names suggest, PAWS encapsulates a variety of mostly psychological symptoms that can occur after a person has completed the acute – or most intense – phase of withdrawal from alcohol or another drug:

  • Withdrawal occurs when a person abruptly stops or is prevented from using a substance that they have become addicted to. 
  • Depending on which type of substance use disorder a person has developed, withdrawal can include a range of distressing physical and psychological symptoms. 
  • In most cases, the most severe withdrawal symptoms begin to subside within a week of the person’s last use of the drug. PAWS symptoms can begin to occur after this point.

PAWS is not included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is the standard reference that is used by most clinicians in the United States. Thus, there is no “official” criteria for this experience.

However, this doesn’t mean that PAWS does not exist. It is absolutely a legitimate concern that can have a disruptive effect on a person’s efforts to establish a solid foundation in early recovery.

What Are the Symptoms of PAWS?

People who have gone through this experience and the professionals who have cared for them have noted that this syndrome can include signs and symptoms such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic
  • Impaired cognition, which can include problems related to learning, judgement, and memory
  • Anhedonia, which is a diminished capacity for pleasure or joy
  • Lack of motivation

In addition to the emotional, cognitive, and psychological symptoms listed above, PAWS can sometimes also trigger certain physical effects, including:

  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Enhanced sensitivity to stress, pressure, and pain
  • Sexual dysfunction

Who Is at Risk for PAWS?

This syndrome is most common among people who are attempting to recover from addictions to alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids. 

UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior has reported the following statistics about the prevalence of PAWS:

  • About 90 percent of people who are addicted to heroin, morphine, prescription painkillers, and other opioids can expect to experience some degree of PAWS. 
  • Among people who have alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) or benzodiazepine use disorder, PAWS occurs about 75 percent of the time. 

This syndrome can also affect infants who are born to people who abused these drugs while they were pregnant. 

How Long Does PAWS Last?

So often, seemingly simple questions about addiction and recovery don’t have equally simple answers. The question, “How long does PAWS last?” falls into this category.

The safest accurate statement regarding the length of time a person may experience post-acute withdrawal syndrome is unfortunately vague: This syndrome can last for a long time. 

Although addiction experts have not yet determined exactly why some people struggle with PAWS while others don’t, the general consensus is that it results from structural and functional changes in the brain due to long-term drug use. 

Factors that can influence how long does PAWS last include which drug a person has become addicted to, how much of the drug they typically used (and how often they used it), and the degree of damage their brain incurred. 

In some cases, symptoms persist for a few weeks or a few months after a person has ended their substance abuse and gotten through the acute stage of withdrawal. In other cases, people have continued to experience some symptoms for several months and even multiple years after they stopped using substances.

How Is PAWS Treated?

PAWS and other aspects of addiction are often treated with a combination of medication and therapy. 

The prescription medications that are incorporated into treatment can ease the distress of the symptoms the individual continues to experience. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are examples of the types of prescription drugs that may be beneficial to someone who is experiencing PAWS.

The therapies that are used to treat post-acute withdrawal syndrome can help people learn to manage symptoms that are not alleviated by medication. At Nashville Treatment Solutions, a person may participate in several therapies, such as:

  • Group and family therapy sessions
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy

Find Treatment for Addiction in Nashville, TN

If you have been struggling with PAWS or other effects of addiction, Nashville Treatment Solutions is here for you. Our addiction treatment center in Nashville, Tennessee, offers personalized outpatient care at the partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient, and outpatient levels. In each of these programs, you can expect to receive customized services and focused support from a team of dedicated professionals. 

PAWS can be a significant obstacle on the path of long-term recovery. But when you choose Nashville Treatment Solutions, you can make sustained progress toward a healthier and much more hopeful future. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our admissions page or call us today.