Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) may cause you to feel periods of irritability, restlessness, or confusion as a result of your body trying to heal from years of substance abuse. This is the body’s natural response to adjusting to life without drugs, and while this is a natural process, the symptoms can be difficult to live with. Don’t fret! There are things you can do to help alleviate the symptoms.
Now is the time to set your physical and mental health as your top priorities. A good rule of thumb if you are struggling with symptoms is to remember the acronym “HALT” – hungry, angry, lonely, tired. If you are feeling any of these things you should try to address them. It may seem overly simplistic, but this is one of those instances where it is actually that easy. Let’s face it, many people have poor or non-existent eating habits during their active addiction. Therefore, it is important to eat nutritious food a few times a day because it fuels the brain and can improve decision making, enable you to have more emotional control and gives you energy. Cheetos don’t count, start thinking healthy foods!
Think back to your past drug use. Did you ever use because you were angry or lonely? These emotions can be triggers that can lead to a relapse. Now is the time to start creating a “bag of tricks” to combat these feelings. These skills may not come naturally and will take some practice in order to make them your new healthy way of managing feelings. I can help you develop these skills and customize them to adapt to your lifestyle. A few quick options for combatting anger could be to talk to a friend, watch a funny cat video on YouTube (or whatever you find funny), exercise, or something else you like to do to relax. If you are feeling lonely you may have to move out of your comfort zone just a little bit. Oftentimes it is difficult to reach out to someone, or it can feel difficult to leave the house, but think baby steps and make a small effort to start to get connected. Even a trip to the grocery store and talking to the checkout person is a start. Typically, once a connection is made, we feel much better.
Another consideration to help with PAWS symptoms is to attend a recovery group like Narcotics Anonymous (NA) or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Attending some sort of recovery group has been shown to improve one’s success in recovery – especially in early recovery. You may have some reservations about some aspects of these meetings, but it does not hurt to check it out for yourself and try a few. I would suggest going to more than one meeting, because it is difficult to get a good opinion after just one. The benefit to going to a support group is that it provides you with a place to be and the opportunity to be around a group of people who are likely to understand what you are going through. You don’t have to talk; you can just sit and listen.
Some other ideas to help manage PAWS symptoms is to keep a journal. A journal will enable you to get your feelings down on paper and help track symptoms and triggers. If you have a lot of work to do you may want to do the more challenging tasks first, since concentration and memory can be compromised at times during early recovery. Another way to combat trouble with concentration is to avoid “heavy thinking” for prolonged periods. It may be helpful to plan 15-minute increments of serious thinking and take breaks in between. You may be forgetful and could benefit from utilizing features on your phone or computer to help remind you and stay more organized. Finally, sleep may be a problem. Drug dreams can be scary and unnerving but they are normal, and does not mean you are relapsing. Some easy things to do to help improve the quality of your sleep is to limit caffeine, establish a sleep routine, and adopt a sleep schedule.
The key to dealing with PAWS is to try to address individual symptoms as they occur. Try to live a healthy lifestyle and stay busy, but also take time to relax and smell the roses. Now is the time to start looking around to see the beauty around you, because during active use you tend to forget that the flowers are even there. Early recovery is a time to slow things down and enjoy and accept the new life you are building. PAWS will go away in time.