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What are the Risks of Trying Cold Turkey Detox?

When you’ve become dependent on or addicted to a substance, quitting cold turkey is not the safest option. In fact, it can be incredibly dangerous in some cases.  By quitting cold turkey, we mean stopping the use of a drug abruptly. Whether the drug is alcohol, an opiate, or a benzodiazepine, stopping suddenly can cause the body to undergo intense or severe withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can be quite dangerous and life-threatening.

Why Would Someone Quit Cold Turkey?

Some people who are addicted to a drug think that quitting cold turkey is appealing. They feel this way because they’d rather abstain completely from the drug rather than take it in moderation or taper off it. They’re used to taking the drug without restraint, so they think they’d be better off just cutting it out entirely so that they’re not tempted to keep misusing the drug.

How Risky Is Quitting Cold Turkey?

When you take a drug, including alcohol, it affects the central nervous system and the brain. The body can become dependent on the drug over time and may even require more of the drug to have the same effect. This is known as tolerance.

Quitting cold turkey can be dangerous because once the body gets used to having that drug, it kind of freaks out when it doesn’t get that drug anymore. It’s like taking a toddler’s safety blanket from them, causing a host of reactions that don’t feel very good to the toddler.  They want that security of the blanket, and they want it now.

But stopping drugs abruptly can pose great danger and in some cases, life-threatening conditions, including cardiovascular issues and seizures. Also, reintroducing some drugs, such as opioids, into the body after you’ve cut them out for a while, can lead to an overdose.  This is because when you stop taking them abruptly, your tolerance is lowered. Then, when you start to retake them at the same dose you left off at, it’s too much of a shock for your body. This can cause an overdose, which can be fatal.

The Need for Detox

When you’ve become dependent on alcohol or a drug, breaking free from that addiction is best done when you undergo a medically supervised detox at a reputable, licensed treatment facility. To detox means that your body is ridding itself from the toxins associated with the particular drug.  When this is done under the care of a physician, addiction specialist, or rehab, getting through the withdrawal symptoms is much more manageable.

Can Quitting Cold Turkey Lead to Death?

According to Psychology Today, if one quits three drugs cold turkey, it could lead to death. Those drugs are alcohol, benzodiazepines, and opioids.

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Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to stop taking cold turkey. When you drink alcohol, the brain’s neurotransmitters and GABA (gamma-Aminobutyric acid) levels are affected. They get used to the artificial boost that alcohol gives them. However, when you suddenly stop drinking, the brain isn’t sure how to handle it. It goes a bit haywire, producing withdrawal symptoms such as:

  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shaking
  • Anxiety

More severe symptoms are:

·         Seizures

·         Delirium tremens (DTs)

·         Cardiac arrhythmias

Quitting Benzodiazepines Cold Turkey

Benzos are another drug class that you should never quit taking cold turkey. Again, when you take benzos for a while, the body can become dependent on them. If you abruptly stop taking them, it can send your brain in a tailspin, and you’ll feel uncomfortable and perhaps even dangerous withdrawal symptoms.

Some of the more severe withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Extreme confusion
  • Perception issues
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Tremors
  • Seizures (some grand mal seizures can be fatal)

You should always taper off benzos with the help of an addiction specialist or detox facility.

Quitting Opioids Cold Turkey

When you stop taking opioids cold turkey, you run the risk of experiencing severe withdrawal symptoms that can be dangerous. As with the other drugs, tapering off opioids is your best option for a safe detox. Doing this under the care of a physician or trained substance abuse professional is recommended.  When someone tries to quit cold turkey, uncomfortable symptoms can arise, such as:

  • Severe nausea and vomiting
  • Intense body aches
  • Restless legs
  • High anxiety

When Should I Quit Cold Turkey?

You should not quit taking any drug cold turkey. Consult with an addiction specialist, physician, or an expert at a drug detox or rehab before coming off a drug that you’ve become dependent upon or addicted to. These professionals can help you create a taper plan that will help curb some of the more daunting withdrawal symptoms.

They may even be able to prescribe you alternative or maintenance medications that can help minimize some withdrawal symptoms, such as maintenance drugs for opioid detox.

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Detoxing the Correct Way

The best way to detox from any drug is in a professional setting with an addiction specialist. This can help you learn the best detox route to take, minimizing withdrawal symptoms and have the care and support of professionals. Sometimes it’s frightening to think about enduring withdrawal symptoms on your own. When you reach out for the help of professionals, you’ll gain the kind of support that can help minimize such fears.

Detoxing the correct way in a safe environment also decreases your chance of relapse. With treatment staff on hand around-the-clock, you’ll have much more confidence in your recovery.

In some instances, physicians may prescribe maintenance medication, such as in the case of detoxing from opioids like heroin. Suboxone or methadone are popular drugs that allow you to come off heroin without having to go through the intense and uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms you usually would.

After a medically supervised detox, it’s suggested that you continue treatment in the form of residential or outpatient rehab. Ongoing counseling and addiction recovery treatment is essential to make a full recovery long term.

Conclusion

There are far too many risks associated with trying to quit alcohol or drugs cold turkey. If you’re addicted to a drug, consider seeking the help of trained substance abuse professionals at a detox or rehab center rather than trying to do it on your own at home. When you are under the care of those who understand addiction and the withdrawal process, you’ll have a far better chance at a successful detox and recovery.

Sources

NIDA. (2018, January 17). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition

Very Well Mind. What Are The Risks of Quitting Cold Turkey? Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-are-the-risks-of-quitting-cold-turkey-21813

Healthline. Is It Safe to Quit Substances Cold Turkey? Here’s What to Consider What to expect. (March 29, 2019) Watson, S., Legg, T. PhD, PsyD. from https://www.healthline.com/health/opioid-withdrawal/quitting-cold-turkey#what-to-expect

NIDA. (2016, February 11). Understanding Drug Abuse and Addiction: What Science Says. from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/teaching-packets/understanding-drug-abuse-addiction/section-iii/7-medical-detoxification

Psychology Today. Alcohol, Benzos, and Opiates: Withdrawal That Might Kill You. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/all-about-addiction/201001/alcohol-benzos-and-opiates-withdrawal-might-kill-you

Business Insider: What It Felt Like When I Tried To Quit Heroin. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/heres-what-it-felt-like-when-i-tried-to-quit-heroin-2014-2

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