Sober(er) for October: Getting Past Withdrawal


​A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer


When stopping or significantly reducing the use of alcohol or other substances, there are many things to consider. For example, if you have been a heavy user, you might experience withdrawal symptoms.

The fear of withdrawal symptoms prevents some people from stopping their use of substances. There is acute withdrawal, which usually lasts a few days and consists mainly of physical symptoms. However, there is also post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which can last from several days to even months, and generally involves more “thinking" and “feeling" symptoms." These can include:

 Memory problems / "foggy thinking"

 Inability to concentrate

 Low motivation to do things


 Anxiety, depression or mood swings​

These symptoms are a sign that your body is trying to heal itself from the effects of substance use; your brain is “recalibrating," or adjusting to the changes you are making. This cycle moves from physical discomfort to emotional and psychological discomfort.

We can help ourselves and others in a number of different ways. As FNHA Knowledge Keeper Syexwaliya Ann Whonnock reminds us, “The Ancestors and Elders teach that we need to respect, understand and care about where each of us is at in our life journey, and to help or support one another as best we can. This includes being kind, non-judgemental, and understanding – and listening with an open heart. "

When you or someone you know is experiencing PAWS, here are some other things to keep in mind:

 Recovery cannot be rushed.

 Being kind and understanding is important – this includes to yourself!

 Stress can be a triggering factor for PAWS.

 People, places or things that remind a person of using can also be triggers and should be avoided if possible.

 Wellness and self-care activities can help. Consider taking a walk, drinking water, resting, journalling, or eating a nutritious meal. Replacing old, harmful habits with new, healthier ones can lower the distress associated with PAWS.

 Talking with an experienced and trusted person who will not minimize your experience can help.

 Acknowledging that everyone has their own journey is important. This means we should connect with people in a way that is helpful to them.

Lastly, some people who make the decision to stop drinking or using will be encouraged to know that there is an explanation for what they are feeling – physically, emotionally and spiritually – and that these feelings are temporary. PAWS is a sign that the recovery process is underway, beginning with the necessary early phases of the journey.

If you or a loved one needs support, please contact one of the following services available for people needing help with any kind of substance issues.

Kuu-us Crisis Line Society for culturally safe support, 24/7: Toll-free at 1-800-588-8717. Adult Line: 250-723-4050. Youth Line: 250-723-2040.

Alcohol & Drug Information Referral Service, 24/7: Toll-free at 1-800-663-1441. Lower Mainland: 604 660-9382.

There is also the FNHA's Virtual Addiction Medicine & Psychiatry Program, which currently runs on weekdays (we will expand to weekends as need and capacity increases): To access this service, ask your healthcare provider to provide a referral (they can do so by contacting 1-833-456-7655).

For more information on PAWS, you can visit these websites:

Canadian Health Recovery Centre

Health Canada Services

Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation

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