What You Should Know About Early Recovery and PAWS

The first few months of recovery are often filled with incredible highs and lows, and you may feel like you rarely know what’s coming around the next corner. You may find that you are fidgety, anxious, and unbalanced. This is because your body, mind and spirit are undergoing a tremendous amount of change and adjustment while trying to function without any alcohol.
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These early days are quite difficult for sure! I would like to say that I remember them well, but I don’t. I do however, remember that in the first few weeks I felt really good and energized by my new-found sobriety! But then I would go through emotional spells when I felt happy and depressed, and calm and angry, all at the same time. It was really hard to deal with all the different feelings surfacing at once, as well as still feeling physically unhealthy. This emotional roller coaster often proved to be too much for me, and I ended up relapsing several times during this period.

If this sounds a bit familiar to you, you ma be experiencing some of the symptoms of PAWS.

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a set of impairments that occur immediately after withdrawal from alcohol, usually the symptoms peak around four to eight weeks after quitting. The condition may last from six to eighteen months after the last use, and often fluctuating but incrementally improving.

Many of the problems associated with early sobriety do not stem directly from alcohol. Instead, most are associated with physical and psychosocial changes that occur after the alcohol has left our bodies. In early recovery we should accept that some period of feeling crappy is to be expected as our bodies and brain functions are slowly returning to normal. Stress especially aggravates PAWS symptoms because the natural chemicals like adrenaline, that help us to cope in stressful situations, aren’t back to full strength yet. (Source: Help Guide)

This period of time especially, requires patience and determination!

PAWS is known to have three major areas of impact upon the individual (Source: Sober Recovery):
Cognitive (possible effects):

  • Concentration and attention span impaired.
  • Confusion
  • Racing or recycling thoughts (highly distracting).
  • Thoughts scattered and incoherent.
  • Rigid thinking and lack of (normal) required flexibility.
  • Difficulties with abstract and conceptual thoughts.
  • Cause and effect reasoning impaired.
  • Themes and threads connecting events not recognized.
  • Prioritization (management of one’s time and energy) impaired.

Emotional (possible effects):

  • Emotionally dead or emotionally hyper.
  • Small events of little consequence treated as catastrophic.
  • Valent thoughts (not bonded with reality/experience) difficult to shake.
  • Social withdrawal.
  • Recovering alcoholic believes they are going, or have gone, mad.
  • Lack of emotion affects personal resolve to stay sober.

Memory (possible effects):

  • Recently learned information (within last 30 minutes) quickly forgotten.
  • New skills or routines not learned or assimilated naturally (if at all).
  • Information retained but then lost after days/weeks.
  • Developmental and childhood memories broken (patchy early memory).

Post-acute withdrawal feels like a roller coaster of symptoms. In the beginning, your symptoms will change a minute to minute and hour to hour. Later as you recover further they will disappear for a few weeks or months only to return again. As you continue to recover the good stretches will get longer and longer.

Hard
During this time it is very important to allow yourself to FEEL, and recognize that, it is OK to feel, any way that you are feeling. It is also really important to take good care of yourself!

Be aware of H.A.L.T!

What is H.A.L.T. ? Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. I am not sure who come up with this acronym but it’s widely used in the 12 step programs and in recovery circles. A big part of staying sober is taking care of ourselves! When we were drinking we didn’t care about these things, one because the alcohol masked them and other because we were preoccupied with drinking anyway. But in sobriety, using this acronym is an easy way to recognize certain signs.

I think that Hungry and Tired is the most important for me. Often, when I am hungry and tired, and I’ve had a long day, and then I am aching or have a nasty headache… all of a sudden life seems so horrible that drinking seems appealing again, because that has been the only way I knew how to cope with any feelings!

If you find yourself in this situations, have something to eat as soon as possible. Taking care of the Hungry will often alleviate the other symptoms. Also go to a meeting, call someone, write about it, read blogs, and rest! Of course sleep, although it may be still unsettling, is the best cure for PAWS.

Remember that these crazy emotional roller coasters won’t last forever, so it is crucial not to get discouraged, and instead STAY POSITIVE! Most of all, remember that this is temporary and with time, and your new healthier lifestyle, these symptoms will subside.


If you, or anyone you know, is struggling with alcohol addiction, please click the Find Support link for an extensive list of support groups. Also please check out the links to many useful resources in the sidebar, and always feel free to contact me anytime at sobercourage@gmail.com.

You may also find some great inspiration and support from all the awesome sober bloggers listed in the side bar under POSTS I LIKE and RECOVERY BLOGGERS, as well as Sober Courage page on Facebook and Sober Courage on Twitter.

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15 Comments Add yours

  1. sassysober1 says:

    I’m in the midst of this (day 16) and while I don’t love hearing the peak will be between week 4-8, I appreciate getting a realistic sense of what to expect.

    Like

    1. Hi there! Congrats on 16 days! That’s awesome! I know this may not be the greatest news, right!? But I think it’s so important to know what’s ahead and be prepared. I didn’t know about PAWS what I was starting my journey, I just felt like I was going insane! Oh wait that’s on the list, whew, that’s normal! Lol!

      Thanks for stopping by! Please stay connected, it’s always easier with some good people by your side! Hugs! Keep moving forward!

      Like

  2. Very well done! Great post. Even though I only stopped smoking, I can relate to it. Somehow I started to listen to myself more…if that makes any sense.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thanks Maggie… sometimes I think to myself that I should be over all this shit by now, and I forget that less than six months is still very early days. You’ve reminded me to go easier on myself, that these nasties too will pass. A timely reminder for me 🙂 xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi I know what you mean! I think it’s helpful to understand what our bodies go through, kind like pms, I can recognize it and keep tabs on it and not feel like I am nuts! Of course with time it will all get easier.

      Thanks for visiting. Hugs!

      Like

    2. Lol! I am sure this relates to giving up anything that affects our bodies so it does all make sense! Thanks fir the comment! Hugs!

      Like

  4. Court_Knee says:

    I think my low point was having a full on meltdown because my husband didn’t squeeze out the sponge before he put it on the sink. I can look back and laugh now but it sure felt catastrophic then haha.

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    1. Omg! Yes, funny now, but not then! It’s so good to know that it all passes and we level out. Though I still have my moment! Lol! Thanks for stopping by. Hugs!

      Like

  5. jana0714 says:

    Wow.. this is me today..and yesterday. I reached one month today, and the past few days i just felt blah- empty.. not craving anything but emotionally dead. And i really wanted to celebrate this milestone.. I will read more on PAWS.. THANK YOU!

    Like

    1. Thank you! Glad this resonated with you. I hope you’re feeling better or at least understand why you may not be. 1 month is a huge milestone! Congrats! Woot woot! Keep moving forward! This too shall pass. Hugs.

      Like

  6. leilliarose says:

    Aaahhh, thank you!! The longest I have ever been sober has been 38 days… I always used to cave after about a month, when it all got so intense. This info is good to have!
    I’m on day 9 now, and already my emotions are all over the place. And I’m a bit paranoid and I have been fearing I’ve been actually losing my mind… also, my memory has been so terrible it’s been scaring me. If this is PAWS, then… I am relieved. Maybe I’m not crazy.
    Of course, it’s a bit depressing to know that it can last so long… but, it does get better, over time. So. I can look forward to that. I wonder if it’s a good idea to show this post to someone close to me, so they ,might understand my strangenes?? Hmm…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh so glad this helped. This is definitely a hard time. But I think knowing that you’re not going crazy really helps. I think it might be helpful to show it to someone close to you. It might help them understand what you’re going through. As long as they are supportive I think it would help.

      Thank you for stopping by. It sure does get better or none of us would ever want to get sober! Lol! Sendig many hugs.

      Like

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