Acute drug or alcohol withdrawal is one of the hardest experiences for someone with a substance abuse problem to go through. The physical and mental changes they experience over the first three to five days can last for weeks, but there is another form of withdrawal many people are unaware of. Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can come and go in waves for up to a year after a person stops drinking or using drugs. A variety of symptoms can range from mental health problems to physical discomfort and sickness depending on the type of substances a person abused and how severe their addiction was. Although it is their responsibility to get help and treatment, you can also assist them and help them throughout the recovery process.
Encourage and Assist Self-Care
PAWS symptoms are different for everyone. For example, someone who heavily drank may continually experience bouts of depression, anxiety and insomnia, in addition to low energy, chronic pain and irritability. Another person who was addicted to prescription drugs could suffer from intense cravings, cognitive impairments and fatigue that doesn’t go away. All of these symptoms are manageable, but it takes personal commitment to ensure they do not push someone toward relapse.
You can help your loved one eat well, exercise and look after their mental health in many ways. Going for walks together, cooking healthy meals and even just taking time to ask them if they’ve gotten enough sleep lately can make a big difference in their life. On days when things are especially challenging, try to be understanding and take some burdens off their shoulders. When someone is extremely tired, for example, you may offer to come by and take the dog out or feed the cat. Such a small gesture can remind the person that it’s okay to receive help and let others love them.
Keep Supplies Stocked
Over-the-counter pain relievers, a weighted blanket, a hot bottle and herbal teas can help naturally manage some of the discomfort caused by PAWS. Essential oils can also be used for relaxing massages or aromatherapy. Just make sure that any of the medications or supplements you provide do not conflict with any medications your loved one may currently be taking for their mental health or to manage their substance cravings.
Offer Emotional Support
Sometimes, all you need to do is let your loved one know that you empathize with their struggle and care enough to be there. Holding space for someone going through withdrawal does not always require talking at great lengths or giving advice. Instead, it’s about being fully present, offering reassurance and helping in ways they’re comfortable being helped. One of the best ways you can help someone emotionally is to offer to help them look for rehab programs. Transitioning from PAWS to treatment must be done ASAP; the longer someone goes after detox without proper intervention, the higher the risk they’ll relapse. If they are already in treatment, then you can support them by participating in support groups and driving them to and from meetings. You may help them write a resume, apply for jobs or look for housing. Even just texting someone every day to ask how they’re doing can make a difference.
Know the Warning Signs
Recognize the warning signs of relapse, which can be similar to substance abuse. Some of the biggest red flags to watch out for include:
- Increased difficulty managing stress.
- Mood swings and/or emotional outbursts.
- Conflict in relationships.
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits.
- Skipping support meetings and therapy.
- Discussing substance abuse or relapse more often, obsessing over it or experiencing more frequent and intense cravings.
When you notice any changes, it’s important to start a conversation as soon as possible. You do not have to be confrontational; if someone is dealing with PAWS symptoms, then it’s usually best to approach them in a gentle manner that doesn’t worsen stress. You can say something along the lines of, “You’ve seemed to be struggling a lot lately. What’s going on? How can I help?” If they’ve skipped meetings and are no longer taking an active role in their recovery, it is important to speak up and hold them accountable. If they have a sober coach, it may be more beneficial for you to reach out to them. What matter is that you let them know you notice their struggles and offer to help.
Keep up to date with your loved one’s recovery and symptoms. Ask how they’re feeling, and offer to assist them in any way you can. You may invite them out to do some yoga, which is a gentle exercise that can help them reconnect with their body and manage chronic pain. You could offer affirmations and reassurance when they’re struggling; it’s not uncommon for people with PAWS to have low self-esteem and feel like they’re “failing” at being clean. Remind them that living sober is a lifelong process, not a one-time destination. If you would like more information on detox, substance abuse treatment and rehabs, contact us today. We are always available at 772-934-6580 to help.