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PAWS is an acronym that stands for post acute withdrawal syndrome. The name itself can be pretty explanatory. PAWS is the name for symptoms felt after the withdrawal and detox process.

Many believe that once they finish withdrawal then no symptoms are felt, but this is often wrong. Withdrawal is just the initial phase after quitting drugs or alcohol. The body needs time to heal after drug abuse and this can take quite a while.

Withdrawal is typically the most painful period of quitting, but symptoms can last weeks, months, or even years. PAWS is usually associated with heavy drug or alcohol abuse, and its severity all depends on a person’s addiction and their metabolism. 

While the initial withdrawal exhibits mostly physical symptoms, PAWS manifests itself psychologically the majority of the time. Though no physical symptoms are felt, psychological symptoms can be just as painful. PAWS can make recovery difficult, and can even lead a person back to drugs or alcohol.

It is important to know what PAWS is and how to combat it when a person decides to begin their path to recovery. It is also important for loved ones to know that PAWS can affect a person mentally. Emotional support and understanding will help the user in the road to successful recovery.

So what exactly is PAWS and what can be done? I hope to give you a better understanding of post acute withdrawal syndrome.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

PAWS begins immediately after detox (3-10 days after quitting). It can last weeks, months, or years. It all depends on a person’s age, weight, height, the amount of use, and physical health.

The healthier the someone is, the faster they will recover from PAWS and begin to feel normal. Extremely heavy drug use can leave a person with permanent effects to their brain, and some amount of PAWS could be life lasting.

Even if PAWS is long lasting, a person can learn coping skills.  These can include medication or going to therapy.  Living happily with PAWS is entirely possible if you are committed. If you are recovering from addiction during college, it is even that much more important to learn effective coping skills.  


PAWS symptoms are typically psychological in nature. It can affect emotions, concentration, and learning. These symptoms can be frustrating and lessen self-esteem.

Left untreated an individual might not know why they feel different than they did before they ever began using, and may think there is no hope. Without knowledge this stress can lead a person to relapse.

Common symptoms associated with PAWS are:

  • Emotional outbursts
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Strange dreams or nightmares
  • Low energy
  • Short term memory loss
  • Making decisions and problem solving
  • Difficulty managing stress
  • Dizziness

What To Do?

Luckily there are remedies, medications, and support for PAWS. Often PAWS is not life lasting and it just takes time for the body to heal. If one used drugs for a long time then the body isn’t going to heal overnight. It can take the same length of time as one’s using career to completely heal.

Some symptoms of PAWS can be treated with non-narcotic medications. This can make life much more bearable while having post acute withdrawal syndrome.

To combat depression, antidepressants can be used. There are also many different natural and non-narcotic medications to assist with sleep. There are even non-narcotic attention deficit medications. Drugs like clonidine, a blood pressure medication, can assist with hyperactivity and attention. Finding the right addiction treatment is the best way to prepare for PAWS and learn all of the options available.

There are many non medical remedies for treating PAWS:

  • Have a support group (Church, family, 12-step fellowship, therapists, friends)
  • Stay in constant contact with support network and communicate effectively how you feel
  • Allow time for relaxation to relieve stress
  • Become involved in spiritual programs or practices
  • Make a routine sleep pattern
  • Eat healthy
  • Exercise
  • Allow time to treat yourself (set goals, then reward yourself when goals are met)

For Family, Friends, and Loved One’s

If a loved one is recovering from addiction, understand the risk of PAWS. To promote successful recovery make it known you are there for your loved for emotional support.

Ask how they are feeling. Help give strength and experience and try not to take it personally if they have emotional outbursts. Managing stress in early recovery can be very difficult, and the best way to support someone might be to step back and allow them to see for themselves how they have acted.

Fighting or arguing with someone with PAWS can lead them to over-reacting or even relapsing. Calmly and effectively communicating emotions can help a person struggling with PAWS re-learn how to communicate with loved ones.

Addiction is a family disease and affects everyone involved, not just the addict. Sometimes it is very beneficial for loved ones to see therapists or have support groups for themselves to promote their own health.

Though PAWS is commonly associated with alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids, even marijuana has caused people to suffer from PAWS. Many believe marijuana is not addictive, though countless people do in fact suffer real symptoms and report that medical detox helps their marijuana addiction and reduces PAWS. It is important to not disregard a loved one if they claim marijuana is causing PAWS symptoms because it will further advance their depression and self-doubt.

There are also free support groups for loved ones of addicts and alcoholics like Al-Anon and Nar-Anon. These are twelve-step fellowships dedicated to spouses, parents, children, and siblings of addicts and alcoholics.

To learn more about PAWS , click here.