Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome: What Should you Know?

November 12, 2012

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome: What Should you Know?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome can affect recovering addicts of any sort following the acute withdrawal period. It can be long lasting and requires patience, understanding, and self control to get through.

Many people are familiar with the acute phase of withdrawal which many addicts go through. This phase is normally referred to as the detox stage and can cause a number of effects on the individual such as headaches, muscle cramps, chills, shakes, light sensitivity, and vomiting. While this is indeed be the hardest part of recovery for some people, others will experience long-lasting symptoms associated with post acute withdrawal syndrome. These symptoms are caused by a mixture of nervous system damage and the stress caused by the need/desire for drugs or alcohol. During this stage of recovery, it is important that people have a strong support system in place in order to help them through the process.

Common Mental/Emotional Symptoms

A number of addictions are mental and physical. Unfortunately, the mental problems associated with fighting an addiction can very quickly cause people to relapse if not handled correctly. It is important to keep an eye out for specific signs of post acute withdrawal so that plans of action can be implemented to deal with the problems.

The four most common signs and symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Memory problems- In order to recover from an addiction, many people have to learn new behaviors and habits. These changes in life style may be picked up slowly and people may easily forget new ideas or skills. During this phase, everything should be done slowly in order to avoid unnecessary stress. Feelings of being overwhelmed often cause memory problems to become more severe.

  • Emotional numbness or emotional overreactions- Emotional problems are normally present in people before they become addicts in the first place. Substance abuse often further messes with emotional stability. When trying to cope with being without the drug, people may feel nothing, totally shut down, or overreact to small things.

  • Problems with thinking clearly- This is often one of the most obvious symptoms when it comes to post acute withdrawal stage of recovery. Individuals usually have a hard time concentrating on things which can lead to the inability to solve problems or make simple decisions. You may also notice difficulty handling abstract ideas as well as noticeable repetitive or rigid patterns in thinking.

  • Sensitivity to stress- Because the mind and body are trying to adapt to the current situation, a person may quickly become overwhelmed by what is going on around them. This sensitivity to stress can quickly escalate a calm situation into a frantic one.

Common Physical Symptoms

Drug and alcohol addiction often have a strong mental foundation. On the other hand, as the body becomes accustomed to the presence of particular substances, physical changes can take place. After the initial detoxification, the body may still show physical symptoms as a result of nervous system damage. The most common are:

  • Problems with physical coordination- These problems normally depend on the type of drug abused. Some may be permanent while others will eventually correct themselves over time. Types of physical coordination difficulties include slower reflexes and hand-eye coordination problems.

  • Difficulty sleeping- Disturbing dreams and nightmares are common throughout the early part of post acute withdrawal syndrome. The ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is also affected which can result in lifelong sleep pattern changes.

  • Sensitivity to stress- While this was already mentioned in the previous section, it should be noted that stress can have physical effects on the body. Stress can lead to eating problems, high blood pressure, headaches, etc.

How Long Will It Last

The length of the post acute withdrawal phase of addition varies from person to person. Addictions affect people in different ways and different drugs have different effects on the body and mind. Do not expect people to immediately get better and do not compare their recovery to someone else. As a general guideline, this recovery phase can be as short as six months or as long as 2+ years. Be patient and do not rush this process.

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