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What Happens When You Quit Drugs or Alcohol Cold Turkey?

“Actually, I just woke up one day and decided I didn’t want to feel like that anymore, or ever again. So I changed. Just like that.”

-Anonymous

The idea of quitting drugs or alcohol cold turkey seems so noble to many people. It often feels heroic to think that they can do it without any type of help. The problem is that it is extremely hard, and quite often, it is not safe at all.

Unfortunately, many people believe that stopping substance use abruptly is the only way to detox. That is not true, and there are actually many safe ways to withdraw from the effects of drugs and alcohol – ways that do not require having to stop immediately, without any help or treatment. The question is, what happens to the brain, body and emotions when quitting cold turkey? We would like to share that information with you.

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What Does it Mean to Quit Drugs or Alcohol Cold Turkey?

What Does it Mean to Quit Cold Turkey?

Quitting cold turkey simply means stopping the use of any substance all at once. There is no formal plan of treatment, and no way to manage withdrawal symptoms once they appear. This method can work well in some cases, such as with smoking cigarettes. It is an approach that is often applauded for smokers, regardless of how long they have been smoking. In the case of someone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol, however, it is never recommended.

There are some substances that are extremely dangerous to quit cold turkey. Prescription opioids, heroin and stimulant drugs are just a few examples. In fact, people are often surprised to hear that alcohol also makes this list.

There are several explanations about how this phrase came to be so popular in the United States. One involves an older saying that goes, “talking turkey” or “talking cold turkey.” This just refers to someone who speaks bluntly or gets directly to the point.

Some believe that it may be referring to cold turkey as a food dish because it is so easy to prepare. This one seems a little more far-fetched, but it could be true. It is also possible that the term refers to the sensation of chills or goose bumps that people often experience during withdrawal.

Regardless, today we know that this phrase refers to quitting something abruptly. It can be used to refer to drug addiction, alcoholism, cigarette smoking, or even drinking soda.

Drugs That are Hard to Quit and Dangerous to Stop Cold Turkey

There are some drugs that only result in minor withdrawal symptoms when they are stopped abruptly. Marijuana is a perfect example. Someone who decides to stop using it may feel some discomfort. But they should be able to quit without any complications. The same is not true for all drugs.

withdrawal Effects

It is important to understand what can happen when certain drugs are stopped cold turkey. This list should provide some valuable insight.

Alcohol is the most commonly misused drug in the United States, and some would even say, the world. It is widely available to anyone who is old enough to purchase it. Also, for the most part, it is believed to be safe. That in itself only contributes to how dangerous it is.

When alcohol is stopped abruptly, it can cause serious withdrawal symptoms. Some of them can even become life threatening if left untreated.

Alcohol may seem safe because it is legal. But the reality is that it is quite dangerous. Once someone becomes addicted to it, they need to go through the proper treatment program to stop. Quitting alcohol cold turkey should never even be considered as an option.

Withdrawal Symptoms and the Risks

Some experts believe that quitting alcohol can be more dangerous than stopping the use of any other substance. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can become quite severe, and there are a lot of risks involved as well.

Some of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Shaky hands
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Symptoms of anxiety or even panic attacks
  • Painful headaches
  • Insomnia and other sleep issues
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cravings for alcohol

In some cases, alcohol withdrawal may become even worse. When it does, it can progress to a condition called delirium tremens, or DTs. This condition can become life threatening, and there is no way to insure that it will not happen. This is why it is best to go through an alcohol detox program. They offer treatments that can keep people safe from this type of complication.

Some of the symptoms of DTs include:

  • The onset of seizures
  • Body tremors
  • Irritability and agitation
  • Fatigue and deep sleep that lasts a long time
  • Hallucinations or delusions
  • Confusion
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Feelings of restlessness

Here, Joe Rogan talks about how dangerous it is to go cold turkey on alcohol:


Heroin is an illegal opiate drug that can lead to a quick addiction once someone starts taking it. Research shows that most people who use it first began by abusing prescription opioids. They gravitated toward an illegal opiate once they were no longer able to continue obtaining their prescriptions.

Heroin withdrawals are very difficult to manage. Sometimes people assume that it would be better to go cold turkey so they can get withdrawal over with. That is a very bad idea because of the symptoms that often result.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Opiate withdrawal symptoms usually begin by being very mild. Most heroin abusers know what they feel like, but they fail to recognize that they will get worse.

The early symptoms of heroin withdrawal include:

  • Feeling anxious
  • Achy muscles
  • Increased eye tearing
  • Excessive sweating
  • Yawning
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Anger and agitation
  • A runny nose

As the withdrawal progresses, the above symptoms are likely to get worse. The addict may also suffer from additional, more severe symptoms as time goes on. They include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Intense cravings
  • Stomach cramps
  • Dilated pupils
  • Goosebumps

This video gives a chilling description of what heroin withdrawal is like:


There are different types of stimulant drugs. There are those that are legal and available by prescription, and those that are illegal. Medications like Adderall and Strattera are commonly used to treat ADHD, as well as a few other conditions. Yet, they can be just as highly addictive as cocaine or methamphetamine.

Regardless of what the drug is, quitting cold turkey is likely to throw the body into withdrawal abruptly. The symptoms can be extremely difficult to manage without medical treatment.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Whether someone is taking a prescription or illegal stimulant, the withdrawal symptoms are likely to be similar. The ones that most people complain of include:

  • Feeling lethargic and tired
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Lack of energy
  • Cravings for the drug of choice
  • Symptoms of anxiety
  • Anger and agitation
  • Insomnia

For some individuals, depression can become very severe. There is even a risk of suicidal ideation or behaviors that can result when stopping stimulants cold turkey. This is one of the reasons it is best to get professional help before attempting to quit.

This video gives an accurate depiction of stimulant withdrawal symptoms:


Opioid painkillers are among the most abused drugs in America. Millions of prescriptions are written for them every year, and many doctors fail to inform their patients about how addictive they are. This fact alone has led to the opioid epidemic in our country today.

Unfortunately, many people who become addicted to opioids do so on accident. Once they realize they are addicted, their first instinct is to quit cold turkey. This is very dangerous because – just like with heroin and similar drugs – withdrawals can be severe.

Withdrawal Symptoms

Prescription pain medication addiction can lead to many different symptoms of withdrawal when they are stopped. These can include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Chills
  • Goose bumps
  • Body aches and pains
  • Severe mood swings
  • Large pupils
  • Diarrhea
  • Cravings for the drug

There can be a risk of complications once opioids are stopped as well. It is possible to experience heart problems, and some may even have seizures.

In this video, Brett Favre explains what it was like to quit Vicodin cold turkey:


Other Options for Quitting Drugs or Alcohol

Celebrities That Have Quit Drugs and Alcohol Cold Turkey

There are many celebrities that have chosen to go to drug and alcohol detox as a way to stop using and recover. But there are others who simply woke up one morning and decided that they were finished. It is interesting to hear their stories and what went through their minds during that time.

The former President of the United States, George W. Bush, had a history of heavy drinking. He stopped in 1976, when he was 40 years old. This was after getting arrested for drunk driving on one occasion and disorderly conduct prior to that.

Former First Lady, Laura Bush stated that, “He liked to drink beer, bourbon and B&B afterwards. George just woke up and he knew he wanted to quit. And he stopped, and he was able to stop. A lot of people can’t. A lot of people need to stop. He just stopped cold turkey.”

Jada Pinkett Smith, wife of Will Smith, began recognizing that she had a drinking problem. She was not struggling with full-blown alcoholism, but she knew that if she did not get a handle on it, it would only get worse.

She states, “I found myself drinking two bottles of wine on the couch, and I said, ‘Jada, I think we’ve got a problem here.’” After that day, she quit cold turkey and never turned back.

Everyone knows Brett Favre as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. What many do not know is that at one time, he was battling a serious opioid painkiller addiction.

It was normal for him to take 15 Vicodins at one time, and it was a dosage he worked up to gradually. It also meant that he was going through a month’s prescription in only two days.

One day, he says he hit rock bottom and he flushed his last four pills down the toilet. The next month was very difficult because of the withdrawal. Fortunately, he did not suffer any serious complications.

Brett states, “I just went cold turkey – I don’t say that braggingly, I just know that was the worst month, in terms of any kind of recovery, I ever went through. I shook every night, cold sweats, it was a constant battle.”

The Best Way to Stop Using Alcohol and Drugs

Again, quitting cold turkey is never recommended when it comes to drugs or alcohol. Doing so can be dangerous, and for many, it only leads to a relapse, which can become fatal.

The best way to stop using is to opt for professional treatment. The above drugs are all ones that require detox prior to starting any type of rehabilitation program. But both types of treatment are recommended for recovery to be a success.

Detoxing is the process of removing drugs and alcohol from the system. It allows for the patient to receive the necessary treatment for withdrawal symptoms. It can also radically reduce the risk of any complications. This means that someone who would be at risk for DTs or seizures may not experience them if they detox first.

There are several different types of treatments that doctors will use when a person goes through detox. Everyone is different, which means the program must be tailored to the needs of the individual. There may also be various options, depending on the type of substance the person was using.

Medical Tapering

For patients who suffer from a prescription drug addiction – such as Oxycodone or Adderall – a medical taper may be ordered. This allows the staff members to slowly lower their dosage of the drug until they are off it completely.

Sometimes people attempt to do a taper themselves at home, but this could cause a lot of problems. It is rare that someone knows how to do it properly. They may cut the doses too soon, or not cut them fast enough. It is important for tapering to only be done in a medical setting by qualified professionals.

Medical Detox Programs

Most experts agree that almost everyone who is addicted to drugs or alcohol can benefit from a medical detox. This allows the patient to take medications that will help with their withdrawal symptoms. It also provides them with medical support in the event of a complication.

There are many different medications that can be given to help with withdrawal. Usually, the medical team addresses specific symptoms. For instance, if someone has been using a drug that is known to cause seizures when it is stopped, an anticonvulsant may be given. For people who suffer from anxiety or depression, they may be started on an antidepressant.

Medical detox does have its risks. This is why it is important for people to only utilize programs that have been proven to be successful for others. Patients should never be kept on certain medications long-term. There can be a risk of a secondary addiction to the new drug that can develop. But with close and careful monitoring, that risk can be minimized.

Medication Assisted Treatment or ORT

This form of treatment is frequently referred to as MAT or opioid replacement therapy. It is specifically designed to treat opioid addiction and help with withdrawal symptoms. Doctors can prescribe certain drugs for this purpose. Many of them are also opioids, but they’re approved by the FDA for detox.

Some examples of MAT medications include:

Vivitrol for Alcoholism and Opioid Addiction

Vivitrol is one of the newest medications on the market to treat both alcohol and opioid addiction. Unlike other drugs, it is not an opioid. But it has been demonstrated to work very well for those with that type of an addiction.

Vivitrol is also much more convenient than other medications. It is given by injection every 30 days. There is no risk with it because it is non-addictive. That in itself makes it a good option for people who are addicted to opioids.

Vivitrol services are becoming more available all over the country. It is a drug that has shown great promise for those seeking long-term recovery.

Holistic Detoxification Methods

Regardless of what type of medical detox a patient receives, doctors will often prescribe holistic detox as well. This means that they will experience non-medical treatment methods as well.

For many drug addicts or alcoholics, they often don’t eat as well as they should. Many will go days or even weeks without eating much at all because they are so consumed by their addictions. The first course of action will be to address their diets. They need to have the right combination of vitamins and nutrients in order for their bodies to function properly. Otherwise, their liver and kidneys will not be able to process toxins out efficiently.

They will probably also be started on a regular exercise program, participate in meditation, and receive other treatments. When used along with medical detox, holistic detoxification is very effective.

What Happens in Alcohol and Drug Rehab?

During drug and alcohol rehab, patients will participate in different types of therapy. They will work with a counselor in an individual setting, and they will also have group therapy. Depending on the program, there may be other forms of treatment available as well.

Patients are working toward many different goals when they go to rehab. The primary goal will be to learn what it was that led to their addictions. For many, they started using because they suffered from a co-occurring disorder, or a mental health condition. About half of all people with addictions also have a mental illness. It is very important for that condition to be treated.

There are several co-occurring disorders that often accompany addictions. Some of them include:

It is common for people to come to rehab undiagnosed. They started using because it was a way for them to treat their symptoms. When both conditions are treated at the same time, their chances of long-term recovery increase substantially.

The Benefits of Group Therapy

The idea of group therapy is one that often makes people feel nervous. They may feel comfortable talking with a therapist one on one, but talking to a group of strangers is not the same.

Group therapy has been shown to be a very important part of the recovery process. Patients are helped by being able to discuss their situations and experiences with each other. It makes them feel better to know that they are not alone in what they are going through. They need that peer support, and it gives them the encouragement they need to press on with recovery.

Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue

Avoid Going Cold Turkey – Choose Treatment and Start Today

Sometimes people believe that the only option they have is to go cold turkey. We want you to know that is not the case at all. You do have other options, and there are people available to help you meet your goals for recovery.

At Northpoint Evergreen Bellevue, we have been able to assist so many people who all felt the way you do. Many of them considered trying to quit cold turkey, and some of them tried it. The truth is that most of the time, that method fails. It is not because you lack in willpower, but because you do not have the support you need. We can provide that for you.

We are here to answer any questions you might have about going cold turkey or starting your treatment. Please contact us today.

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What Happens When You Quit Drugs or Alcohol Cold Turkey?