If you’ve been using addictive substances for a long time and suddenly want to change the course of your life, it might be tempting to quit drug or alcohol use right then and there. Why prolong it any further when you can just pour the alcohol down the drain or flush the pills down the toilet?
While the desire is courageous and understandable, the impulsivity is potentially dangerous. Not that quitting addictive habits is bad – it’s the quitting cold turkey that is less than advisable.
What is cold turkey?
Quitting cold turkey means the abrupt stop in addictive habits, with little to no preparation or adjustment. While many medically assisted detox programs use methods like tapering or medication to help lessen the blow of withdrawal, with cold turkey one assumes all the risks of withdrawal. There is nothing acting as a buffer as you feel the effects of your body being sharply forced to function without substances.
Withdrawal happens as a natural result of suddenly not being able to rely on synthetic chemicals to do the tasks which your body’s systems should be performing on their own. Take dopamine, for example – when using substances like heroin, the drug hijacks and body and produces the dopamine, stealing this job from the brain and nervous system. Not to mention, heroin is producing more than the body could ever imagine producing naturally. Over the period of addiction, the body adjusts to these high levels of dopamine, for better or worse.
So when the body is suddenly deprived of this substance cold turkey, it has to scramble to not only remember what it’s like to perform these functions on its own, but also how.
The result? Withdrawal.
What are withdrawal symptoms?
Withdrawal symptoms are the psychological and physical conditions that arise as the body is flushed of the substance and figures out how to begin functioning naturally once again. Drug withdrawal is different for every individual and relies on a variety of factors, including:
Which substance was abused;
How long the addiction lasted;
How frequently the substance was used or consumed;
The dosage or quantity of the substance taken;
The physical and mental health of the individual;
Any genes which pre-disposed them to developing an addiction.
All of these items can play a part in both the longevity and severity of withdrawal symptoms. However, cold turkey withdrawal symptoms can and do generally include a list of physical and psychological challenges/illnesses, such as:
Changes in appetite;
Changes in mood;
Headaches and muscle aches;
Nausea and vomiting;
Diarrhea and other digestive problems;
Additionally, some substances present more serious symptoms, such as seizures, hallucinations and suicidal thoughts.
Is quitting cold turkey bad?
Quitting cold turkey isn’t bad, theoretically. For many, the sooner you start the journey to recovery, the better. However, there is a way in which this can be done without running the risks of quitting cold turkey.
Cold turkey includes many risks, like severe medical complications and ineffectiveness. Once the withdrawal symptoms start, many quickly return to substances to get them to stop. Not only does this undo any progress you may have made, but it can lead to overdose and other dangerous consequences.
You should quit substance use as soon as possible, but you should also take into consideration the risks of not enrolling in a medical detox facility. While the privacy of detoxing at home may be tempting, the benefit of detoxing with a treatment plan includes properly prescribed medication to lessen the effects of withdrawal, a trained medical staff to assist if something goes wrong and a plan for post-detox treatment that allows for a more permanent and maintainable recovery.
Do you want to stop drugs cold turkey?
If you are struggling with alcohol, opioids or benzodiazepines, first look into treatment facilities before stopping cold turkey. These kinds of addictions almost always require treatment, and there is no shame in getting professional help. With the right treatment options, you can surely quit addiction and remain safe while doing so.
The information on this website is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this site should be taken as medical advice for any individual case or situation. This information is not intended to create, and receipt or viewing does not constitute, a doctor-patient relationship.