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The Difference between Detox and PAWS

Detox and Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome are often considered synonymous with one another when in actuality they are two entirely different things.  In fact, by their very definition, PAWS can only exist after detox has occurred, and both are treated using dissimilar methods.  However, at the root of both detox and post acute withdrawal syndrome is addiction and alcoholism – serious diseases that require immediate and intensive treatment.  This treatment begins with an understanding of how drug addiction and alcoholism treatment works – especially where related to detox and PAWS.

By the time a person has become addicted to a substance, their body has already made significant physiological changes in order to adapt to these foreign chemicals.  The body first develops tolerance to a substance, but with enough drug use and time the body will actually become physically addicted to it.  When that substance is then withheld from the body the central nervous system undergoes radical changes in an effort to readapt.  These changes can cause severe physical discomfort and other symptoms, including an uncontrollable desire to use again and thus obtain relief.  Depending on the substance, detoxing can sometimes have fatal consequences if not managed properly.

The detox stage usually lasts between 7 to 10 days but can be longer for severely addicted individuals.  Most people choose to detox in a professional medical facility that is designed exclusively for this purpose.  However, when the detox program is over, the majority of newly recovering people are left to deal with what comes next with little guidance: Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome.

Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome is a set of symptoms that occur after a person has detoxed from drugs or alcohol.  These symptoms can vary greatly from person to person but overall have one similar characteristic: the ability to disrupt the entire life of the sufferer.  These symptoms include insomnia, anxiety, depression, mania, memory problems, difficulty managing stress, difficulty managing relationships, lethargy, uncontrolled emotional impulses, and difficulty in making decisions.  Some people might suffer from one or many of these symptoms on a consistent everyday basis, while others might experience these symptoms intermittently. 

PAWS symptoms are often misunderstood, ignored, or misidentified.  This is especially problematic considering that issues related to PAWS can continue to surface for up to two years if left untreated.  Without treatment many people who suffer from post acute withdrawal symptoms will relapse, and some of those will relapse again and again.  However, with proper education newly recovering addicts and alcoholics can identify these problems and communicate them to a therapist, drug addiction treatment specialist, or other professional.  Treatment is always based upon the individual needs of the client with the primary goal being to maintain sobriety.  This is accomplished via the following therapies:

  • Individual Therapy – Under guidance from a professional addiction treatment specialist patients will be able to take a personal inventory and explore the triggers and causes of their addiction or alcoholism.
  • Group Therapy – Discussions with others who are also suffering from PAWS and other issues related to addiction can be extremely beneficial to a recovery program that has a strong support network.
  • Family Therapy – Because those who are closest to you are often the ones who suffer the most from your addictions, their involvement in your therapy is critical in order to promote meaningful healing. 

The differences between detox and PAWS are striking; however you cannot have one without the other, so they’re both really just small parts of the big overall picture that is a lifetime of recovery from drug addiction and alcoholism.

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