PAWS is a deceptively adorable acronym for post-acute withdrawal syndrome, and the symptoms are similar to PTSD: depression, insomnia, restlessness, feelings of guilt and shame, inability to think clearly, and, in my case, very vivid nightmares. In one, I have a bag of dope in my hand and I am looking for a place to shoot up, but every time I find one, I get interrupted. The dream always ends when I have a needle in my arm: I'm about to push off, and right before I can feel the effects, I wake up. PAWS is like my addiction taunting me, every night, and it can last anywhere from a year, to several decades, to forever. But even without PAWS, I know I'm never going back to the way I was before -- I'm "hooked" forever. Even if I don't use for 20 years, one slip-up means I'll get withdrawal symptoms almost immediately. This is why you will see recovering heroin addicts refuse pain medication at the hospital: They'd rather go through surgery without morphine than have to go back to that very first day they tried to kick.
No thanks. Appendicitis doesn't actually sound too bad.
These days, Sally and I are broken up (I dumped her when she rolled over on me in jail, and not in the fun way. Now she's in prison for something unrelated), and I've been clean for 11 months. But my problems aren't over, because the drug itself isn't the problem -- the addiction is. Remember, I was using heroin every day for weeks before I developed a physical dependency, so heroin was just my attempt to fix problems that were already in place. If you know someone who's using or has used, you should know that this isn't as simple as them making bad decisions. They're running from something that, to them, seems a whole lot scarier than a needle.
This article was written before the death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman and is dedicated to the memory of everything he did outside his illness. Ed Byrne is still taking it day by day and can be reached by email. JF Sargent is a dick-joke journalist at Cracked.
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