Quitting Drugs Or Alcohol Cold Turkey: Safety And Risks

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Cold turkey detox is a term used to describe the sudden cessation of drug or alcohol use. This is often done at home, without medical support. Quitting drugs cold turkey can be dangerous, and in some cases, can risk the development of life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Dangers Of Quitting Drugs And Alcohol Cold Turkey

Hundreds of thousands of Americans seek treatment for substance abuse each year.

Detoxification, also known as detox, is generally the first step in overcoming drug abuse. One widely known method for doing this is referred to as “cold turkey” detox.

Unfortunately, quitting drugs cold-turkey can be dangerous. For more information, here is a brief overview of risks and dangers.

What Does It Mean To Quit Cold Turkey?

Quitting a drug “cold turkey” refers to stopping your use of a drug suddenly and all at once. This can apply to the use of illicit drugs, prescription drugs, or alcohol.

Why Do People Quit Drugs Cold Turkey?

Cold turkey detox is an alternative to gradually tapering your drug use, or weaning off a drug over time. For some drugs, weaning (also called tapering) is generally recommended.

Unfortunately, someone with a drug or alcohol problem may find it difficult to do this, and may believe that quitting “cold turkey” will be easier, like ripping off a band-aid.

Is Quitting Drugs Or Alcohol Cold Turkey Safe?

Cold-turkey detox is not recommended for those who have a history of substance abuse, or who have taken a prescription drug, like Xanax, regularly for more than a few weeks.

Quitting certain drugs all at once — particularly benzodiazepines, alcohol, or opioids — can carry significant risks if you’ve developed physical dependence or drug addiction.

What Are The Risks Of Quitting Cold Turkey?

Cold turkey detox can pose a number of risks, ranging from life-threatening withdrawal symptoms to a heightened risk for drug relapse and overdose.

The risks of quitting an addictive substance suddenly can vary depending on the type of drug.

In general, some common risks of the cold turkey detox process include:

  • moderate to severe drug withdrawal
  • relapse to drug use
  • loss of touch with reality (psychosis)
  • difficulty attending to normal tasks and activities
  • accidental overdose (if relapse occurs, following detox)

Additional dangers can occur if you are detoxing from specific drugs. That includes alcohol, the most common substance of abuse in the United States, and opioids.

Dangers Of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

Chronic alcohol abuse can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms with any attempt to reduce or quit alcohol. The most severe form of this is delirium tremens.

Delirium tremens, or DTs, occurs most often in those with severe alcohol dependence who have abused alcohol for years.

Trying to quit alcohol without professional support can increase the risk for developing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms within the first 72 hours of your last drink.

Symptoms of DTs include:

  • mental confusion
  • fever
  • heart palpitations/rapid heart rate
  • hallucinations
  • delirium (false beliefs)
  • body tremors
  • bursts of energy
  • alcohol-induced seizures

Without medical treatment, some symptoms of severe alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening.

Dangers Of Quitting Benzodiazepines Cold Turkey

Benzodiazepines, also known as “benzos,” are a class of anxiolytics that are commonly prescribed for the treatment of anxiety disorders.

Unfortunately, they are known to cause severe physical dependence with chronic use, which is why they are generally recommended as a short-term treatment.

Quitting a benzodiazepine all at once after taking it regularly for months or years could lead to dangerous withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and psychosis.

Dangers Of Quitting Opioids Cold Turkey

Opioids are a class of painkillers that are commonly abused in the United States, due to their ability to relieve pain and produce euphoria in small to moderate doses.

Quitting opioids like heroin or fentanyl cold-turkey can be risky for a number of reasons. While opiates aren’t known to produce life-threatening withdrawal, withdrawal can be highly uncomfortable.

Opioid withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • drug cravings
  • goosebumps
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle aches
  • bone pain
  • and more

The primary dangers of opioid detox are the risk for relapse and overdose. This is because your tolerance for opioids decreases following detox.

What Is The Safest Way To Detox?

The safest way to stop your use of opioids, alcohol, benzodiazepines, or another type of drug is to detox under the supervision of a physician or detox team.

Medical detox, also known as medically supervised detox, is the safest and best way to detox from a drug, especially if you have been misusing substances.

You can find medical detox through:

  • an inpatient detox facility
  • an outpatient detox center
  • your family doctor or general healthcare provider
  • some inpatient addiction treatment centers
  • some medical centers and hospitals

What Are The Benefits Of Medical Detox?

Safety is the number one benefit of medical detox. But a doctor or team of detox professionals can also provide treatment for withdrawal.

Treatment for psychological and physical symptoms of withdrawal may involve:

  • medication for nausea, fever, anxiety, and other withdrawal symptoms
  • fluids and nutritional support
  • medication for opioid use disorder (e.g. methadone, buprenorphine)

A detox program can come up with an appropriate treatment plan for you by assessing your physical and mental health needs.

Moreover, a detox facility may also be able to connect you with additional treatment services for substance use disorder.

Find Detox And Substance Abuse Treatment Today

If you’re looking for a detox program for yourself or a loved one, or want to understand the risks of detox, our team of treatment specialists can help.

Call our helpline today for more information about safe and effective drug and alcohol detox options.


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