The symptoms of alcohol and drug substance withdrawal usually result from the toxic effects these substances have caused on the body and the brain over the period the victim has been using them. During the first few days to weeks of cessation of the drugs or alcohol use, the patient experiences mild to severe withdrawal symptoms depending on the addiction level and the drugs. Both illegal and prescription drugs can lead to withdrawal symptoms after cessation, which may last from few days to several weeks.

What is post-acute withdrawal syndrome?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome occurs following a medically supervised detox process from alcohol, marijuana, heroin, cocaine, benzodiazepines, opiates, and other forms of addictive drug substances. For instance, in a marijuana addiction rehab, many patients experience a phase of physical discomfort, which is known as acute withdrawal. Some of these symptoms include headache, muscle ache, nausea, increased heart rate, etc. Withdrawal can lead to severe and life-threatening symptoms if detox is not performed under medical supervision.

However, there is more to physical symptoms of drug addiction withdrawal. Acute withdrawal is simply the body's process of healing from a drug or alcohol addiction. There is a more serious second phase known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which occurs as the addict's brain recalibrates after a period of active addiction. Unlike the first stage of acute withdrawal, this second phase involves more psychological and emotional withdrawal aspects. Depending on the addict's addiction level, these symptoms can occur for few weeks to several months down the recovery process period. Although post-acute withdrawal syndrome is a temporary condition, the symptoms sometimes drive the patients to relapse.

Why do post-acute withdrawal symptoms occur?

Post-acute withdrawal is a process that occurs during the initial stages of recovery from drug or alcohol dependence. The withdrawal syndrome is the brain's process of rectifying the chemical imbalances suffered during the active phase of addiction. It mainly affects individuals addicted to alcohol, opioids, heroin, and benzodiazepines(commonly prescribed for anxiety, panic attacks, and depression).

The common symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome

  • Urges and cravings.

    AdvertisementBuild online presence with trusted marketing software (en)
  • Anxiety.

  • Depression.

  • Stress.

  • Fatigue.

  • Panic attacks.

  • Hallucinations.

  • Impaired ability to concentrate.

  • Mood swings.

  • Tremors.

  • Lack of initiative.

  • Irritability and sometimes hostility.

  • Insomnia.

  • Trouble remembering or thinking.

Post-acute withdrawal symptoms are temporary, and as the individual progresses to long-term recovery, they occur less often. In most cases, the symptoms are triggered by situations such as places or people who remind them of using drugs or alcohol. In the initial stages of recovery, the symptoms can change by minute, and many individuals report having an up and down roller coaster-like effect.

How is post-acute withdrawal syndrome managed?

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome is more of an emotional and psychological effect; therefore, therapists and psychological counselors help individuals cope. Antidepressants help to stabilize the moods of many individuals dealing with the effects of psychoactive drugs such as marijuana. Some prescription medicines also help to reduce the cravings to overcome opioids and alcohol addiction. Other coping mechanisms doctors take to help individuals during recovery include:

  • Prescribing healthy diets.

  • Educating them about what will happen to their bodies during recovery.

  • Finding natural ways to deal with insomnia.

  • Encourage joining support groups.

  • Encourage the individual to celebrate every step of the recovery journey.


The risk of experiencing post-acute withdrawal life-threatening symptoms can only be minimized by receiving detox under medical supervision, enrolling for rehabilitation therapy, and receiving support during and after treatment.