Most recovering alcoholics will tell you that the first few hours and days of withdrawal and detox are one of the hardest things they've ever gone through. That's why so many feel like they've achieved their goal of sobriety after the acute withdrawal symptoms fade. They believe they've conquered the demon and expect their lives to be free of the pain, depression, insomnia and physical problems that accompanied their drinking. But often, that's not the case.
According to Elements of Behavioral Health, 75% of recovering alcoholics experience various degrees of ongoing symptoms, a condition known as Post-Acute-Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). Not only are the symptoms uncomfortable, but PAWS is also a major cause for relapse. Here's what you need to know about PAWS and how to deal with it.
What Causes PAWS?
Beginning just a few hours after an addict's last drink, the person will begin experiencing intense physical cravings for alcohol, accompanied by aches, pains, nausea, headaches, hallucinations, and tremors. These symptoms slowly subside over a few days to as long as two weeks. Unfortunately, your addiction has changed the chemistry in your brain, and it takes a while to regain its balance.
Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption suppresses the body's production of "feel good" neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins. These neurochemicals are responsible for many of the good feelings your body experiences. When alcohol is taken away, the body notices the lack of these chemicals, and the person can suffer mood swings, insomnia, exhaustion, and intense cravings for the substance that used to keep these symptoms at bay. Addicts who are not prepared for this stage of their recovery can quickly succumb to temptation and the quick relief found in a bottle.
How Can You Cope with PAWS?
Although the severity of PAWS typically depends on the length and severity of the addiction, there are some things a recovering addict can do to minimize the symptoms and stay on to long-term sobriety.
Education. Simply knowing about PAWS and preparing yourself for the depression and other symptoms can help you understand why you are experiencing them and harden yourself against the eventual cravings.
Change of habit. Your body has adjusted to your addiction and wants to return to its "normal" state of addiction. You will increase these feelings of longing (cravings) by returning to the same habits you had before you stopped drinking. You need to avoid the people, places, and situations that were part of your addiction as they can trigger the same destructive behaviors.
Continued support. Whether your rehab was forced or voluntary, inpatient or outpatient, supervised or at-home, it's important to have a network of support you can call on. Take advantage of 12-step programs, religious groups, post-treatment follow-up programs, support groups, and personal or group therapy.
Supplemental support. Some treatment specialists recommend certain amino acid supplements that can boost the production of serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins until your body regains the ability to produce them naturally.
The path to sobriety can be rocky. By knowing what's ahead and planning for it, you reduce your chances of making a misstep along the way. For more information, contact your local alcohol treatment center.