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Early sobriety withdrawal symptoms. Why don't I feel better now I'm sober?

Updated: May 22

It takes time to feel better after you stop drinking alcohol. When people first stop drinking, they might have plans to hit the gym, clean up their diet and make over their life, only to find they're not feeling well enough to do much at all for a wee while.

"It takes time to feel better, it won't all happen overnight," explains Ocean Hills Founder Elaine Atkinson.

"You might have all the good intentions to get on with life but we tell people you will need a lot of rest - there can be withdrawal symptoms in early sobriety. Alcohol puts the brain and body through a lot and it takes time to heal."

Early sobriety withdrawal symptoms
The brain and body need time to heal after addiction

Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS) in early sobriety

Many people experience acute withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking alcohol. Usually these physical symptoms are mild and don’t last more than a week or so. Heavy drinkers will need medical supervision when stopping as detoxing can be very dangerous or even fatal. However with the right support, their acute symptoms can be managed well and fade within days or weeks.

What many people don’t realise is that another raft of withdrawal symptoms can arise in for in early sobriety (up to two years). Known as PAWS (Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome), this is experienced while the brain recalibrates without alcohol, and can cause psychological and emotional distress while it learns to make normals levels of endorphins and dopamine.

PAWS is a known risk factor in relapse risk but with the right treatment and support, it can be managed and overcome.

PAWS symptoms - what are they and how to get through

As the body and brain heals from the stress of addiction, people can experience waves of feelings and symptoms that include:

  • Cravings to drink alcohol

  • Mood swings

  • Fatigue, insomnia and vivid dreams

  • Anxiety and depression

  • Lack of drive

  • Foggy thinking and lack of concentration.

These symptoms can feel like a rollercoaster – especially in the first few months of recovery – but as the brain and body recovers the effects slow down and gradually disappear.

Early sobriety withdrawal symptoms
Be gentle and don't push yourself too hard in the early days of sobriety

Handy tips for withdrawal symptoms in early sobriety

Here are 7 practical tips for successfully managing the symptoms of post-acute withdrawal syndrome:

  1. Get professional help from mental health professionals when needed.

  2. Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get enough sleep.

  3. Reduce stress and avoid situations and people that will trigger you and learn from unexpected, difficult situations.

  4. Cultivate and look after positive, supportive relationships.

  5. Journal and take regular time out to reflect on what’s working and what’s not.

  6. Be gentle and don’t push yourself too hard. If something is stressing you out, stop and come back to it when you’re feeling better.

  7. Give yourself time and realise that there will be bad days and moments along with the good as you heal.

So much focus is placed on getting sober that sometimes it’s easy to forget that stopping drinking alcohol is just the beginning of a healthy, sustainable sobriety.


Aftercare – a crucial part of the treatment offered at Ocean Hills Rehab in Napier – is important in establishing the right support to deal with the obstacles you may face in early sobriety.


Each week, the Ocean Hills community meets online to support each other and be guided by our professional team, who are always available after rehab for advice. We also encourage our clients to attend peer support recovery groups.

If you or your loved one is struggling with alcohol, call Elaine on 027 573 7744 for confidential chat.

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