“Quitting Addiction Cold Turkey”, anyone?

“Cold Turkey”, anyone?


So, this post is very important!

Traditionally people thought an abrupt stop to someone’s drinking or using was what was needed to ‘sort them right out’.

Now, I played the ‘cold turkey’ roulette on many occasions throughout the years in my brave attempt to quit using substances. The last time was extremely memorable as I literally felt like I was literally going die (this is NOT an exaggeration).

Because I was using alcohol or drugs in such an unrestrained manner, it seemed much simpler to just stop using that substance as opposed to trusting myself to reduce it safely over time. But it not just me, scientific study’s indicates that trying to quit cold turkey may be doing more harm than good.

Many people think that a reasonable way to overcome an addiction is to stop drugs or immediately, as opposed to attending a detox treatment centre or engaging in community detox. Not a great idea!


Problems with Quitting Cold Turkey

Numerous studies have indicated that trying to end an addiction all at once is ill-advised and for numerous reasons.


1: Impact on Mental Health:

It’s important to note that some people struggling substance abuse issues can have underlying, mental health issues. However; whether mental illness is present or not substances affect the brain and over time, these substances actually change the functions of the brain on a biological level.

Without getting too technical, once an addictive substance is ingested, dopamine causes that nice fuzzy feeling. When this high fades, more of the addictive substance is required than before just to feel that same high (those 32 Nurofen Plus not cutting it anymore?).


When someone becomes dependent upon a substance, symptoms of withdrawal will begin to show when they stop. For example, when going through alcohol withdrawal, people may experience:

  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Nightmares
  • Trouble thinking clearly
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations

When it comes to other substances, withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Aggression
  • Impaired mental function
  • Paranoia

These symptoms alone can be reason enough to seek a substance abuse aftercare program. Pairing those symptoms with any type of mental illness that is not being addressed can be a detriment to someone’s sobriety. When taking part in inpatient rehabilitation programs, patients can be sure that their mental health needs are addressed and kept track of throughout the detox and treatment process.


2: Impact on Physical Health:

Physical withdrawals from alcohol and/or drugs are pretty uncomfortable, (we are not talking hangover uncomfortable here). Withdrawal causes many physical symptoms and their level of severity is dependent on how long a person has been using, as well as the rate of substance consumption.

Because these symptoms vary greatly from person to person it makes the withdrawal process unpredictable.

Physical withdrawal symptoms from alcohol include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shallow breathing
  • Clammy skin
  • Sweating

Drugs like Benzodiazepines, opiates, and Methamphetamines come with even more severe withdrawals, including symptoms such as:

  • Memory loss
  • Tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Stroke
  • Heart or respiratory failure


The most severe, life-threatening form of withdrawals is known as delirium tremens. DT’s side effects include high fever, confusion, body tremors, hallucinations, and seizures. This form of withdrawal can begin anywhere from 48 hours to 10 days after quitting substance abuse.

Attempting to quit all at once will do nothing but increase the severity of withdrawal symptoms, as well as increasing the likelihood of experiencing the more significant symptoms.

Also, because the body develops a lower tolerance to drugs and alcohol during withdrawal and detox, if substance use is stopped cold turkey, suffering from a relapse is even more dangerous as it increases the likelihood of an overdose.


Seek medical help!


Drug and alcohol detox centers are designed to make the process of becoming and staying sober easier. When entering a medical facility to begin detoxing, patients will often be given medications that can help to mitigate physical withdrawal symptoms offering support 24 hours a day.

The risk of relapse as a patient of an alcohol detox treatment center or drug detox program is also lower than that of quitting cold turkey.


  1. Doesn’t address the addiction:

Quitting drugs or alcohol cold turkey does not actually address the root problems that could have an influence on the addiction. Traumatic or adverse childhood experiences can play a huge part in forming addictive behaviours. In order to treat the addiction, the underlying problems present must also be treated as well.  

Quitting cold turkey ignores the idea that a support system is needed to be the most successful in one’s recovery. Being alone at this time in recovery can be a very frightening experience.


  1. Ineffective:

In reality, as brave and as earnest attempting to end an addiction by quitting cold turkey is, it’s not actually very effective in practice (I can vouch for this). When suffering from withdrawals, people facing addiction issues can be driven to the brink by their symptoms. Those dealing with physical dependence feel like they need to do almost anything in the moments of withdrawal to make the pain stop. The risk of relapse increases.

So, it’s clear to see that when dealing with substance abuse issues, attempt to stop cold turkey as opposed to formal alcohol and drug detox treatment, people are putting themselves at increased risk.

It might sound logical and make perfect sense to stop as soon as possible; there are however more factors to consider; the risk of relapse and overdose; withdrawal and the effects it has on the human body.

Attending and/or accepting formal detox treatment allows people to access to a larger, support system, helping them deal with what is happening during the process of becoming sober. This increases the likelihood of remaining sober for longer.


Becoming sober is a difficult process and no one needs to be alone during this time.


Do it once and do it right!