Going Cold Turkey Won’t Work – Here’s Why

According to the World Health Organization, alcohol abuse kills at least 3.3 million people yearly. Although this is a big concern, it’s not the only one.

Alcohol abuse often has adverse effects in your life. From relationship issues and financial difficulties to health challenges and legal problems, it never gets easy for an alcohol abuser or addict.

Alcohol quickly enslaves you, and it becomes harder by the day to achieve life goals and reach your full potential. So, it’s understandable when you reach a point where you say ‘enough is enough.’

But, is quitting alcohol abruptly, what we call a cold turkey, the best approach for an addict? According to a study by Harvard University, going cold turkey can kill you, so the answer is NO.

The Risk – Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome

When you are addicted to alcohol for a long time, you not only build tolerance for it, but your body also becomes reliant on the substance to maintain its emotional and physical equilibrium.

If you quit alcohol suddenly and medically-unassisted, your body will start getting rid of the substance to assume a nonalcoholic state. Sadly, that often doesn’t turn well for many people as it causes Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS).

AWS can also be linked to your body’s neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers in your body) becoming imbalanced. As a result, the brain’s functions become impaired, leading to severe side-effects.

The Symptoms

Here are some of the severe withdrawal symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Trauma
  • Tachycardia
  • Seizures
  • Muscle ache
  • Hallucinations
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal cramps

Sadly though, the National Institute of Health (NIH) estimates that delirium tremens (shaking frenzy) occur in about 10% of those who try to detox from home unassisted (without medical help). What’s more, 25% of them, according to NIH, die if they don’t get medical advice.

Delirium tremens is typically associated with chronic alcoholics, and it’s usually characterized by hallucinations, abnormal shaking, and convulsions. But in some severe cases, the victim may suffer heart failure, which principally leads to death.

Some recovering alcoholics experience a withdrawal syndrome known as alcoholic ketoacidosis. The condition is due to the pancreas’ failure to produce insulin, the hormone responsible for blood glucose regulation. Alcoholic ketoacidosis can be fatal, but luckily, it’s treatable.

Some people may present with other less serious, yet displeasing withdrawal symptoms like headaches, sleep deprivation, loss of appetite, and anxiety.

If Not Cold Turkey, What Then? Your Options

While going cold turkey won’t work in as far as detoxing is concerned, you should consider medically-assisted detox or tapering slowly.

Usually, a cold-turkey detox happens when you decide to quit alcohol at home without any professional or medical help. As discussed, that’s life-threatening.

You, however, have the option of detoxing using a medically-assisted program.

Alternatively, you can use tapering to help you with addiction. For this method, you won’t need medical assistance. However, you must plan and be ready to take some time with it.

Tapering involves a slow and gradual process to help you quit alcohol eventually. Throughout the process, you consume decreasing amounts of alcohol. In doing so, you reduce AWS until you get to the point where you no longer depend on alcohol. 

The dangers of going cold turkey

Why is medically-assisted detox preferable?

In such a program, doctors evaluate your condition and create a customized detox plan to wean your body off alcohol slowly. The goal is to avoid the severe withdrawal effects that are usually associated with going cold turkey.

Your doctor will provide medication that will prevent or reduce AWS. Speaking of detox medications, the FDA approves the following prescriptions within a medically-assisted detox program:

  • Disulfiram (Antabuse) – Prescribed to help you stop drinking. You are likely to feel displeasing effects like nausea, sweating, and headache briefly after taking alcohol.
  • Acamprosate (Campral) – Thought to restore the balance between neurotransmitters GABA and glutamate. The drug works by reducing alcohol craving.
  • Naltrexone (Revia/Vivitrol) – Act by reducing the urge for drinking, leading to abstinence.

The other benefit of  medically assisted detox is that hospitalization is not necessary. You can operate as an outpatient. You can see a doctor at an appointed time, pick up your drugs, and take them home. That allows you to continue with work, school, or any other engagement.

Slowly Taper Off 

Tapering off alcohol is an approach meant to reduce the severity of AWS. It starts with reducing your alcohol intake gradually. It also includes avoiding triggers like bars, events and parties.

Generally, tapering off is ideal if:

  • You don’t have the money to sign up into an inpatient detox unit
  • Have  supportive family or friends by your side who can help during the process

Tapering off requires adequate preparation and a slow approach. If well planned and done gradually, it could save you from signing up at a detox rehab. 

What Else Can I Do?

It’s also important to consider these options to support your recovery and sobriety:

  • Find a strong support group

One support group that you can consider joining is Live Rehab. We have a fantastic alcohol recovery program that has proven effective for thousands of people. You can read the reviews on the website. 

You can also find support from friends and families. Talk to the people you love about your plans of quitting alcohol and let them support you emotionally and in whichever way they can.

  • Observe self-care

Practices like meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness activities can help a long way in your sobriety quest. They help to restore mental calmness, which is vital in quitting alcohol.

  • Know how to manage triggers

You may have been told that a relapse is inevitable. But, that’s not the case. As long as you understand the present triggers and know how to manage them then the road to recovery will be easier. 

Know what your triggers are and know how to deal with them. Writing a letter to yourself could be a good solution to managing triggers. 

  • Find a distraction

Do you love sports, music, or outdoor adventure? How about movies or reading? Distractions provide a great way to take your mind off of alcohol so long as those distractions aren’t triggering you to drink. Find activities that you enjoy and keep you engaged.

  • See your doctor first

Before you decide to quit alcohol suddenly, first talk to your doctor about it. They will suggest a treatment plan for addressing the withdrawal effects and recommend the most appropriate medically-assisted detox program.

Closing Thought

It should be clear that going cold turkey  won’t work. 

Consider signing up for the Ultimate Addiction and Recovery Plan to start your recovery from home affordably. 

You’ll find many useful on-demand videos and quizzes that can help you attain sobriety, and you’ll receive a certificate of completion at the end of the program. 

Taylor Holmes
Taylor Holmes
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