Weeks, even months following successfully completing opiate detox and treatment feelings of anxiety can still linger. This, and other symptoms of post acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) can be a challenging obstacle to overcome in the early phase of recovery. Understanding why post opiate anxiety emerges, sometimes months later, can help prepare the individual for managing the unsettling symptom while keeping them firmly on the recovery journey.
What is Post Opiate Anxiety?
When someone goes to rehab for treatment of an opiate addiction they are taught about how such an addiction evolves. Addiction education is part and parcel of any reputable rehab program, as it offers important information about how the brain is altered when the drug is introduced into the system, which can act as a deterrent to relapse. Even armed with this information it is usually surprising to individuals in recovery for opiate addiction just how significantly the drug did indeed impact their brain chemistry.
Post opiate anxiety is one of a cluster of symptoms that can emerge in early recovery. Symptoms may be delayed for a month or more, or may be an extension of the treatment phase of recovery. The individual begins to feel edgy, irritable, restless and stressed out. Symptoms of anxiety are the results of the brain unwinding its dependence on the drug, so are actually a good sign. Even so, learning how to push through these uncomfortable symptoms using stress-reducing techniques will surely help the discomfort.
About Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS)
PAWS refers to a group of withdrawal symptoms that persist for months, even up to a year, following the initial detoxification of a drug such as heroin. The symptoms tend to be unpredictable, sporadic, or cyclical in nature. The length of time, or intensity of the PAWS will be largely related to the duration of addiction and consumption levels of the drug. Generally, PAWS symptoms are psychological in nature, versus physical. PAWS symptoms include:
- Anxiety, fear, panic
- Cognitive impairment
- Agitation, edginess
- Exhaustion, fatigue
- Loss of interest in sex
- Mood swings
- Sleep problems
- Decreased impulse control
There is no set timeline for how long PAWS might linger. The symptoms tend to be more prolonged in individuals with a long history of opiate abuse.
Managing PAWS in Recovery
Other than toughing out PAWS during the initial months of opiate recovery, there are ways to mitigate the post opiate anxiety symptoms. Various holistic therapies or activities can be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of anxiety. These relaxation-promoting activities might include:
- Mindfulness. This helps the individual focus purposefully on the present moment and see that the feelings of anxiety are simply a bodily response to withdrawal.
- Deep breathing. Learning how to regulate stress through deep breathing exercises is a tool that can be accessed anywhere at any time.
- Yoga. A yoga class helps center your attention on achieving the poses and on the breathing process.
The Importance of Continuing Care
While stress-reducing techniques are an excellent tool for managing anxiety in recovery, other important continuing care services should be included in post-rehab aftercare. Relapse is the number one threat to opiate recovery. Because stress and other life events can trigger a relapse, having a solid support system intact is essential. Some of the most helpful sources of continuing care include:
- Sober living housing. Sober living provides a drug and alcohol-free living space where regular drug tests are conducted to ensure the residents are clean and sober. This sets up a deterrent to relapse, as well as provides social support in early recovery.
- Medication-assisted treatment. Drug therapy, such as methadone and Suboxone, can be helpful in reinforcing recovery, at least for the first year but possibly for a longer period. The drugs block opioid receptors in the brain, which helps reduce the powerful opiate cravings that can lead to relapse.
- Ongoing outpatient therapy. Individual and group therapy is an excellent preventative measure for relapse. Psychotherapy provides ongoing support, helping those in recovery overcome struggles or challenges to sobriety. Group sessions also encourage peer support, another protective factor in recovery.
- Support groups, such as N.A. or A.A. By participating in a recovery community the individual is surrounded by others who are also committed to sobriety, providing social support and opportunities for accountability.
Phoenix Rising Behavioral is a Leading Outpatient Rehab in Orange County
Phoenix Rising Behavioral offers a continuum of recovery services for individuals with an opiate addiction. Although recovery begins with detox and treatment, managing PAWS is an important piece that must be addressed and incorporated into recovery goals. Phoenix Rising provides ongoing outpatient services, 12-step programming, and teaches holistic methods for PAWS-related symptoms that often accompanying the post-rehab phase of recovery. For more information about continuing care services, please contact Phoenix Rising Behavioral today at (877) 299-5694.