Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Overcoming Paws, Also Known As Dry Drunk Syndrome

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If you or someone you love has recently won the battle over alcoholism, you know how wonderful it is to enjoy life without a dependence on drinking. At the same time, you may have had to deal with a type of grieving, going through stages of denial, anger, bargaining, and depression before finally reaching the point of accepting the absence of alcohol in your life. Some people truly experience sobriety as a kind of death and have to accept the loss and learn and grow from the experience before they can move on.

One thing that can get in the way of this process is a phenomenon known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS). It's also been called "dry drunk syndrome," and can affect a person's process of giving up drinking both physically and mentally. It can be a challenge, but it's not insurmountable.

What It Looks and Feels Like

When a heavy drinker quits drinking, his brain must adjust to the chemical damage that alcohol has caused. This process can last for weeks, months, sometimes even years. Symptoms of PAWS include dizziness, slow reflexes, and problems with balance and coordination. In fact, a person who's dealing with side effects of PAWS actually may look like he's intoxicated even though he's been totally abstinent (which explains where the term "dry drunk" may come from).

Emotionally, a person dealing with PAWS may have mood swings and become depressed, making him tough to be around—maybe even as unpleasant as he might have been when he was drinking. Factor in that before he quit he could blame his behavior on alcohol, but now how has "no excuse" for it, and it's easy to see why being proactive about dealing with PAWS is so important.

Coping with Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome

Programs like Alcoholics Anonymous have championed the theory for many years that spirituality is key to recovering, and for millions of people that approach has led to happy and sober lives. But it's not for everyone. Here are other steps a person can take while moving toward a drink-free life. They may seem simple and unsurprising, but they work.

Develop a hobby. Take up gardening, start collecting an item you're truly interested in or fascinated by, learn how to build things and focus on the creative project. The goal is to fill the time you once spent drinking with activities that are enjoyable and engrossing.

Get healthy. There's no question years of drinking can take a toll on the body. Make tending to your physical health on a daily basis an important part of your new sobriety. Join a gym, take up a sport, try yoga (which can have mental benefits as well as physical ones). If you love dogs and don't have one, this is a great time to adopt a stray or volunteer to walk dogs at your local shelter.

Boost your brain power. It's never too late to learn new things. Go for that second degree you always wanted or audit a class at a local university or college, commit to reading every book you can get your hands on about a topic you're interested in.

Lean on your loved ones. Misery loves company—and so does recovery. Even the people who may have felt left out or alienated before you quit drinking will welcome every opportunity to spend time with you. Ask your partner out for regular date nights, get more involved with your grandkids, find fun activities to do with friends that don't involve drinking.

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Article Sources

  • American Addiction Centers. "What Is a Dry Drunk?"
  • DeSoto CB, et al. "Symptomatology in Alcoholics at Various Stages of Abstinence."Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research September 2007.
  • Shivani Reddy, MD, Alexandra M. Dick, MA, Megan R. Gerber, MD, MPH, and Karen Mitchel, PhD. “The Effect of a Yoga Intervention on Alcohol and Drug Abuse Risk in Veteran and Civilian Women With Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.” J Altern Complement Med. 2014 Oct 1; 20(10): 750–756. doi: 10.1089/acm.2014.0014.