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Getting Clean: Using the PAWS Timeline for Opiate Addiction Recovery

According to the National Institutes of Health, around 10% of adults in America have had or will have a drug problem. Many more are currently struggling with drug abuse — and up to 75% of these people do not seek out any kind of treatment for the addiction or for the frightening withdrawal symptoms can range from mild to severe. Detoxification is only the beginning. Many people recovering from drug addiction mistakenly assume that completing this short-term withdrawal period signifies the end of their discomfort.

Unfortunately, many heavy opiate users struggle with a post-acute withdrawal syndrome that contributes to long-term symptoms even after quitting drugs for good. Read through our guide to better understand the PAWS timeline for opiate addiction recovery and learn when it’s time to turn to professionals for additional help in managing your condition.

What Is PAWS?

PAWS is not an official diagnosis in the medical world, and there have been few studies on this syndrome compared to the amount of attention that acute withdrawal symptoms receive. Despite the lack of official knowledge about this condition, many people who are recovering from using opiates can attest to the reality of living with the long-term psychological and emotional effects of drug abuse. Many researchers believe that because a person’s brain chemistry is altered through months or years of drug use, it will take a certain amount of time for neurotransmitters to return to normal.

The Differences Between Acute and Long-Term Withdrawal Symptoms

Though acute withdrawal symptoms tend to get better with time, leaving drug abuse untreated can have disastrous consequences. For most people, detoxing from opiates should be done in a setting where patients are supervised by medical and psychiatric professionals. Even after the acute withdrawal phase has passed, a person may still suffer from severe symptoms related to their past drug abuse. Learn more about how to tell the difference between the two stages and when you may need to consider reaching out for help.

Acute Withdrawal Symptoms

The acute phase of drug withdrawal is often dramatized in movies and TV shows as shivering, fevers, nausea, and explosive emotional outbursts. This depiction is often accurate, but what the media may not show is that it can be extremely dangerous to consider going through this withdrawal period on your own. Symptoms you may experience in the acute period of withdrawal, starting even within the first 24 hours of quitting your drug of choice, can include the following:

  • Full-body symptoms such as fever, chills, and aches
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, throwing up, and stomach pain
  • Mental and emotional symptoms such as paranoia, anxiety, depression, and irritability
Long-Term Withdrawal Symptoms (PAWS)

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms are typically not as severe as short-term symptoms. They may not make you feel physically sick as if you just stopped using opiates, but they can cause psychological distress. You may feel tempted to start using your drug of choice again to make the discomfort stop.

Using the PAWS Timeline for Recovery from Opiate Addiction

Many people who struggle with addiction to opiates manage their symptoms through a combination of detox, medication-assisted treatment, and counseling to work through psychological factors that contributed to their addiction in the first place. Because PAWS patients usually deal with extreme mental and emotional factors long after their original treatment took place (if they had any treatment to begin with), they may need more extensive treatment or different approaches.

It’s always a good idea to seek treatment for the acute phase of opiate withdrawal, which lasts for about two weeks. Seeking treatment early — which may combine medicine, psychiatry, and counseling to treat your withdrawal symptoms — may minimize your chances of having long-term effects. If you are still struggling with uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms, regardless of how long it’s been since you stopped using opiates, please seek help.

Frequently Asked Questions About PAWS

If you suspect that you’re struggling with symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome, this information may not put your mind at ease. After all, who wants to be told that they may deal with the effects of withdrawal long after they’ve quit their drug of choice? The following FAQs may help ease your anxiety about the treatment process and assist you in deciding what to do next.

Will I Recover From Opiate Abuse?

“Recovery” means different things to different people. Some people consider themselves recovered if they simply quit using opiates and don’t relapse, while others want to treat underlying poor coping mechanisms and other emotional factors that lead them to use more aggressively.

People who struggle with dual diagnoses such as bipolar disorder or depression along with their addiction may have to take extra measures to ensure that they do not relapse during flares of their mental illnesses. In short, the idea of recovery is very personal to each person. Let us know how we can help you achieve your goals, and we will be happy to create a plan with you.

Why Do My Symptoms Seem To Go Away and Then Return?

PAWS can be difficult to treat — especially after using drugs for a long time — but it’s not impossible to minimize these symptoms. Your main symptoms of PAWS may be psychological, meaning that you are experiencing drastic mood swings, depression, or mental changes that you have trouble understanding and don’t seem to have control over. You may also struggle with intense cravings from time to time.

Your symptoms may pop up randomly, or they may be tied to other factors in your life. For example, someone with PAWS may be struggling with low mood and feeling “slowed down” mentally as a result of years of opiate abuse. Even though he or she is technically clean, this person may also deal with suppressing daily cravings that are getting difficult to manage. When this person has a bad day, he or she may feel so exhausted from dealing with these long-term effects that, in order to feel better for a little while, he or she decides to use a drug of choice again.

You can see how this cycle will spiral into additional months or even years of drug abuse. This is why it’s important to get help from professionals who have a good understanding of this cycle.

Can Counseling Help Speed Along the Recovery Process?

High-quality counseling with a mental health professional who understands addiction as well as the long-term effects of opiate withdrawal is certainly helpful in the recovery process. Though the PAWS timeline may be longer than a “traditional” recovery, it’s important not to hold yourself to a certain amount of months or years for recovery. Remember, the longer you used drugs, the more changes your body and brain experienced as a result. It will take time to recover.

Counseling can help you understand your triggers, and it may also help you uncover whether you are also dealing with an undiagnosed mental illness (such as depression, bipolar disorder, or even anxiety) that may be complicating your recovery. At Clean Recovery Centers, we focus on a whole-person approach that includes medical treatments as well as counseling. We believe that to feel your best, you must treat both the body and the mind.

Begin Your Recovery Journey Today

If you are considering taking the first steps to a life without opiates, you’re far from alone. We understand that making that first call or sending that first message can be nerve-wracking — but please don’t attempt to treat your PAWS symptoms without being thoroughly assessed by caring mental health professionals.

Research shows that treatment programs greatly increase your chance of recovery both in the short- and long-term, and if you’ve struggled with addiction to opiates, alcohol, or other substances, you likely need a multipronged approach to treating your symptoms. Contact Clean Recovery Centers to make a plan with us for treating your acute and post-acute withdrawal symptoms today.


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