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What is Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome/PAWS – And How Can I Overcome It?

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Benzodiazepines are among the most commonly prescribed drugs in the US – and some of the most frequently abused. These drugs are also powerfully addictive, causing withdrawal symptoms that range from uncomfortable to life threatening. And for some users, withdrawal symptoms can linger for months or even years – a condition called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome, or PAWS.

What Makes Benzos So Addictive?

The class of drugs called benzodiazepines includes:

  • Xanax (alprazolam), widely prescribed for insomnia and anxiety
  • Ativan (lorazepam), commonly used to treat anxiety
  • Klonopin (clonazepam), used for seizures and other conditions
  • Valium (diazepam), a well-known antianxiety medication

Benzos work by changing chemical activity in the brain. They depress the central nervous system and act on the brain’s centers for pleasure and reward to create feelings of calm and relaxation. Over time, though, benzos create new pathways in the brain, so that users become dependent on them and need to take more and more to get the same feeling. When a user stops taking the drug, the body goes into withdrawal, which produces symptoms such as:

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Sleep and concentration problems are common benzo withdrawal symptoms.

  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Sweating
  • Paranoia
  • Sleep and concentration problems
  • Irritability and mood changes
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Headache and tremor

Withdrawal Comes in Stages

Not everyone who stops using benzos has withdrawal symptoms. But if you’ve been using the drug for a long time or taking high doses, it’s likely you’ll experience some form of withdrawal. Withdrawal is also likely for people who mix benzos and other drugs or alcohol, and those who take them by snorting or inhaling.

Benzo withdrawal happens in phases. Withdrawal symptoms begin in the early phase, which usually lasts from 1-4 days after stopping the drug. The second stage of withdrawal is called the acute phase, which lasts around two weeks. During this time, the symptoms are most severe as the body struggles to adapt to the absence of the drug.

For many people, that marks the end of withdrawal. For others, though, the symptoms of withdrawal can last much longer – for months or even years.

Coping With Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Protracted withdrawal symptoms persist well after stopping benzos, creating the condition known as Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS. For people with PAWS, acute withdrawal symptoms may continue for long periods of time, or new symptoms can appear.

PAWS can be a frustrating and frightening experience. It can seem that recovery will never happen. Because stopping drug use doesn’t make a user feel better, it’s tempting to start using the drug again to get rid of lingering symptoms. PAWS symptoms can also be confused with the symptoms of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and panic disorder, so it can be difficult to find the right help.

What is Post Acute Withdrawal and How to Deal With It

Professional Support Aids Healing

Working with substance abuse professionals familiar with PAWS can help with recovery. Counseling and peer group support can help people with PAWS cope with symptoms and avoid the temptation to start using drugs again to stop the symptoms. In a structured rehab program, recovering addicts learn what to expect in withdrawal and why it can take a long time for the body to recover. Groups provide a place to talk about PAWS and share ways to deal with symptoms.

Good Self Care Can Help

Addiction takes a toll on the body in many ways. Lifestyle changes can help a person with PAWS cope with symptoms and support recovery. Simple strategies that can help include:

  • Establishing a stable routine, including regular bedtimes
  • Good nutrition
  • Exercising for overall health
  • Learning new things to help the brain recover

Benzodiazepines have powerful effects on the brain and body, so it can take time to recover. With support, awareness and healthy habits, it’s possible to overcome PAWS and create a new, drug-free life.

Are you worried that you might be addicted to benzos? We have the answers you’re looking for. Call us at 888-602-1971(Who Answers?) to get the help you need right now.

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