Ask anyone addicted to drugs or alcohol what their biggest fear is, and they’ll probably say going through withdrawal.
No matter what drug you’re using, you’ll probably go through symptoms of drug withdrawal when you stop. Withdrawal symptoms of drugs are your body’s reaction to what it perceives as a lack—and which addicts try to fill by getting the drug back into their system. However, withdrawal is a necessary first step toward quitting drugs and getting sober.
What many addicts fear the most is going through drug withdrawal symptoms. In alcoholics, part of withdrawal is the hangover. For opiate addicts, it’s being “dope sick.” Withdrawal is a defining characteristic of addiction, and it involves a host of unpleasant symptoms that make using seem like the only way to “fix” what’s wrong. Symptoms of drug withdrawal vary across the different drugs of abuse, but most aren’t going to kill you and often go away within days or weeks of quitting using drugs.
What many don’t know is that there are stages of withdrawal—in other words, healing and recovery doesn’t happen overnight. Acute withdrawal is the immediate, and often physical, symptoms of stopping using an addictive drug. While each drug is different, acute withdrawal lasts anywhere from several days to several weeks, or in rare cases, months.
Post-acute withdrawal syndrome, or PAWS, is lesser known. However, it’s a common experience and symptoms generally include irritability, anxiety, and insomnia. PAWS doesn’t begin until after detox, often peaking between 4 to 8 weeks after—and sometimes persisting for years later. Benzodiazepine (sedatives, for example, Xanax) withdrawal syndrome is especially difficult to manage and treat, considering symptoms can come and go for years.
PAWS can be a huge relapse trigger. Some of the lesser known symptoms of PAWS can include recurring and intense cravings, the inability to feel pleasure from daily activities (otherwise known as “anhedonia”), what feels like depression or anxiety, moodiness, persistent insomnia, difficulty concentrating, a lack of motivation, and others. PAWS can mimic an undiagnosed mood disorder—a common relapse trigger, in fact, are mood swings.
Relapse prevention is key to successful drug treatment and long-term sobriety. Addicts in recovery can’t work on themselves if they feel terrible, feel sad or anxious, or can’t sleep. At Cornerstone, we utilize the GORSKI-CENAPS Model for relapse prevention planning, which is a 9-step process that helps you identify your triggers—whether stressors or PAWS—and then change your reactions and behavior so you don’t relapse. Our individually customized aftercare program offers additional support and assistance through therapy and support groups. Our dual diagnosis treatment program might prescribe medications to deal with short-term PAWS or underlying mood disorders.