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Cold turkey alcohol

Alcohol withdrawal should always be done under medical supervision. To safety detox, there is only one way to go: with medically-supervised detoxification in a licensed detox center.

Here, we warn against going cold turkey off alcohol at home without medical supervision. What are the risks? The dangers? The symptoms of detoxification from alcohol? More here on why going cold turkey off alcohol is not advised…and a section at the end for your questions about alcohol withdrawal.

Going cold turkey alcohol?

Give it a second thought.

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant that is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. When alcohol has virtually consumed your life and you come to the conclusion that it’s time to purge it from your system, the temptation is to do it yourself. While this may seem like a harmless home remedy, certainly one that won’t cost you anything, in fact, the practice is not only not very effective, it is also a bad idea that can prove dangerous, even fatal, in some instances.

The ‘cold turkey’ method refers to the complete and abrupt cessation of drinking alcohol. This can be effective for some and it can reward a problem drinker by quickening their path to recovery; however, this method of detox can be excruciatingly difficult and should be accompanied by both support group meetings and doctor visits in order to reduce the risk of relapse.

Cold turkey off alcohol

Q: So what does going cold turkey off alcohol do to your body?
A: Basically, it triggers alcohol withdrawal syndrome with possibly very severe symptoms.

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Withdrawal symptoms from alcoholic drinks occur when your body becomes dependent on a substance like alcohol. During withdrawal, the body manifests symptoms when that substance is lowered in dosage or no longer available. Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal show up after a period of continued drinking that is suddenly interrupted. The acute symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may worsen over two to three days and can persist for weeks. They may be more noticeable when you wake up with less alcohol in your blood.

Detoxification from alcohol detox is a two-phase process. The first phase of alcohol withdrawal occurs over a period of a few days. This initial period is the most dangerous and can prove fatal. The second and longer phase of alcohol detox occurs over months, as the brain slowly begins to regulate and resume normal functioning. There may be lingering symptoms during the second phase of alcohol detox, but they are not usually life-threatening.

Cold turkey alcohol withdrawal

For alcoholics in search of recovery, detoxification is often the first step towards a life without alcohol. Alcoholics’ bodies have become accustomed to large amounts of ethanol in their systems; slowing down or interrupting alcohol consumption can cause shock to the body and produce such withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms are the most severe when the cold turkey detox method is used. Cold turkey alcohol withdrawal symptoms include:

  • anxiety
  • clamminess
  • headaches
  • increased heart rate
  • insomnia
  • nausea
  • shakiness
  • sweating

The most severe type of going cold turkey is known as delirium tremens. Its symptoms include:

  • auditory hallucinations (e.g., hearing non-existent sounds)
  • extreme confusion and agitation
  • fever
  • seizures
  • tactile hallucinations (e.g., itching, burning, and numbness)
  • visual hallucinations (e.g., seeing non-existent images)

Quitting cold turkey alcohol

When a person stops drinking alcohol suddenly, just up and quits because he or she thinks it’s time to do so, the consequences can be intense. Sudden alcohol cessation can cause hallucinations, convulsions, and even heart seizure that may ultimately result in death. Who should especially avoid quitting alcohol cold turkey?

  1. Anyone with a serious dependency on alcohol should never even consider going cold turkey at home.
  2. Heavy drinkers or people who have been drinking regularly for a period of 6 months, or more.
  3. Those who have experience severe symptoms during alcohol withdrawal in the past.
  4. Those who have been diagnosed with co-occurring mental health disorders.

Get off alcohol cold turkey

Instead of getting off alcohol turkey, medications or processes can help you during the detox process. For example, instead of going cold turkey off alcohol, doctors may recommend the tier method of detox. The tier method requires gradually tapering off alcohol and is considered a more feasible option for many people with drinking problems. By gradually reducing their alcohol intake – for example, eight drinks instead of ten one day, six the next, then four, and so on – an alcohol dependent person can experience withdrawal symptoms that are less severe.

During professional alcohol detox, medications may be prescribed that can make the detox more comfortable and safer for the individual. Medications such as benzodiazepines, acamprosate and naltrexone, help reduce or eliminate cravings, ease anxiety and help the individual transition more gently from an abrupt cessation from drinking. It is important to note that a person cannot just take a prescription pill and detox on his or her own, though, as these medications require constant monitoring by medical staff.

Over the course of several months of abstinence, long-term withdrawal symptoms such as insomnia, cravings and anxiety will gradually reduce in intensity. They may be eased somewhat by medications such as antidepressants or short-acting benzodiazepines but only continued sobriety and the passage of time can resolve these symptoms.

Can I quit alcohol cold turkey?

It is not recommended that you quit alcohol cold turkey. Instead, you’ll need a professional assessment of your physical, mental, and medical history in order to create an individualized plan for alcohol detox.

But most importantly, detox is only the first step in overcoming alcohol dependence. You need a clear head, not one that’s foggy from alcohol, in order to begin the process of learning how to live a life of sobriety. After a professionally monitored alcohol detox, the individual is ready to embark on long-term recovery. Such therapy often takes place in outpatient or residential treatment centers and includes one-on-one counseling, group therapy, educational lectures, and other treatment specifically tailored to the individual’s needs.

Quitting alcohol cold turkey questions

Still have questions about quitting alcohol cold turkey? Please leave your questions or share your experience from stopping cold turkey in the comments section below. We do our best to respond to you personally and promptly.

Reference Sources: Drink Aware UK: How to stop drinking alcohol
NIDA: Drugs of abuse: Alcohol
NIAAA: Strategies for Rethinking Drinking

Photo credit: Montana Office of Public Instruction

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23 Responses to “Cold turkey alcohol
Joe
1:23 pm September 10th, 2014

I have been drinking a 750MIL bottle and 1 beer a day now for who knows how many years. Too many. I want to quit but was informed it is dangerous to go cold turkey. Any suggestions on how to approach this?

3:32 pm September 10th, 2014

Hi Joe. Long-term drinking in higher quantities requires treatment. Withdrawals from stopping abruptly can be very unpleasant and dangerous. But, first, you have to make up your mind and commit to stopping. You can start by reducing the amount. Keep in mind that before doing anything, it’s good to see a doctor and make sure you are in good health state to withstand it all. Also, try attending AA meetings and see how that works for you.

annmarie
1:02 am November 20th, 2014

I stopped drinking “cold turkey.” I was a functional alcoholic and consumed 2.5 liters or more of gin a week. I drank in the evenings. I finished my last bottle and decided that was it. I was done. I always knew I didn’t have a physical addiction. It was more of my social lifestyle. All my friends drink and most of our involvement was spent eating and drinking. So anyway, I had no withdrawal symptoms. None. I also tend to be a night owl. I would work on projects until 3-4 AM then have to get up in a few hours to go to work. That didn’t work. I used to sleep my whole weekend away to get caught up. I started having more than my glass of wine with dinner. It became the whole bottle then I graduated to martinis. I went to bed at a reasonable hour and managed to get sleep during the week so I could enjoy my weekend. Never had hangover issues in the morning. Since I’ve stopped drinking, I’m back into night owl mode. I’m working on a food blog so I’ll be in my kitchen cooking and photographing until 2-3 AM. I’m self-employed now so I can sleep in. Another thing, I don’t feel any differently physically or emotionally. Just that there is no alcohol in my life any longer. And if you’re wondering about the effects on my body, my liver and pancreas function are fine. It may be that I wasn’t a heavy drinker for more than 5 years. I don’t smoke anything and am a healthy eater. No diabetes, no HBP, have very healthy cholesterol levels, no weight issues.

Ann
7:59 pm February 23rd, 2015

I am now one week sober after drinking WAY too much for far to many years. I went cold turkey on my own for the Lenten season and plan to continue for the rest of my life. So sick and tired of being “rum-dumb”. Small steps become huge successes. Although I have my rough spots – had to power through a difficult hour yesterday – I am feeling rather confident. I knew I had to quit or die. Very black and white reality for me. Anyhow, I am still rather unsteady on my feet, like I become when I drink too much. I am wondering if that will ever go away or if it is just something I am going to have to get used to. I am cognizant of the neuroplasticity issues affecting the brain under the use and/or abuse of any drug. I am just concerned that I have permanently changed things up there.

5:11 pm February 27th, 2015

Way to go Ann. Congratulations on being strong and determined at the beginning of your recovery. Keep on doing the good work and you can also check for group counselling meetings in your area. It helps to share your thoughts and experiences and listen to others who are going through the same. Good luck!

Chris
5:54 pm May 6th, 2015

Hello, I have been clean for over 3 years now. I was reading here on your site as well as a few others about going “cold turkey” and wanted to give some insight about something I am finding on many blogs about this subject. I has to deal with cutting down or easing off the sauce. My opinion is that if you are going to quit cold turkey…Yes, talk to a doctor first! As for easing back on your drinking is not the best advice as that is a door that can swing both ways, meaning, if you are going to quit, quit. When you are given the chance to ease back that also gives that space to go hard at it worse than you were. I have tried both and my advice is to not back down off it rather, just quit. I went from drinking 36-40 Icehouse beers a day (not kidding) then over to White Z. wine almost 4-5 gallons a day, no joke. I quit cold turkey without seeing a doctor first yet, I was able to quit with the right support. (family, friends and AA) Yes, I know the dangers of quitting cold turkey first hand, it is very possible. I love your website by the way :-)

2:41 pm May 8th, 2015

Hello Chris. Thank you for sharing your input. I hope other readers will come across your comment and find it useful. However, speaking with a medical professional before attempting anything is a must! There are people with damaged health who cannot just quit. But, thank you for sharing your story. God bless :)

Tim
5:00 am June 13th, 2015

I’ve been drinking vodka everyday for year the past six months till June the 10 I’ve been drinking a half gallon to a gallon and I’ve not drank anything since the 10 is that a bad idea I feel like shit

3:45 pm June 14th, 2015

Hi Tim. You’ll need professional and medical supervision during alcohol withdrawal, as chronic, high dose drinking can trigger seizures, delerium tremens, or hallucinations. Cold turkey withdrawal on your own is highly risky and not recommended. Do you know where to go (a local detox clinic) for help?

lorna
4:06 pm October 1st, 2015

my partner drinks 2 bottles of white wine a night, he never appears to have a hangover . I was drinking 1 bottle of red a night and woke up 3 days ago and decided just to stop, I am coping quite well, I am worried about my partner going cold turkey due to the amount of wine he goes through, should I encourage him, I know he wont go to see a doctor for help ?

jodie
1:22 am October 3rd, 2015

Hi, I am trying to tapper off alcohol. I realize this article is about quitting cold turkey, but can I ask about weaning? I hope so. I have always liked my beer. I started years ago very slowly increasing my intake. I have always held a job until a few years ago. I am a stay at home mom now. I was drinking at least every other night until I got pregnant with my 3rd child in late 2012. I stopped the day I found out I was preg, no problem except mental- just craved it. Then after she was born I started back up but not much because I was needed during the night! I only drank heavily if my husband had the next day off and could get up with her. There was only 4 months of that til I was pregnant with my 4th child. Again, quit cold turkey, no problem. After she was born, it wasnt long where I was back to doing the same. Then, when my youngest was 4 months old, I found out my husband was having an affair- pushed me much further into drinking. Long story, but relevant. That was January 2014. I started drinking more. I only drink beer. I could drink up to 12 beers a day for a while. Then, 15-18. Now around 20 and everyday. And earlier and earlier in the day do I start. So, I am tired of feeling like shit every day. I know I need to stop, trust me. I decided to make a change. I have done a lot of research and decided to tapper off, since I am not going to inpatient treatment. Back in late January 2015, I did got to a detox center for 3 nights. I never have any withdrawal symptoms at all. I barely took the valum. I just relaxed and it was more like a nice weekend away! BUt I am worried this time because every morning I feel like crap- shakes, dizzy, headache, mental fog, belly ache, diarrhea, etc. I only feel better when I get the next beer. I dont have time for this crap. I have 4 kids, go to college, volunteer and so on. Anyway, my question is what do you think? How bad is my chance of having horrible withdrawals? Tuesday night was my last night of heavy drinking. That was 3 nights ago. I have drank 20 beers since then. BUT I used to drink 20 beers per night. I want to do the tapper thing, and have been. I’ve added B vitamins, magnesium and folic acid. I have eaten better- fish and chicken every day and veggies and fruit, and a vitamin shake. Been walking daily. Any advice? Can I do it??? Thanks and if this is not the right place, just let me know. I have never posted anything so not sure how blog work:)

4:49 pm October 9th, 2015

Hi Lorna. I’d advise him to seek medical help and even go to an alcohol detox and treatment center. Many aren’t prepared for how harsh alcohol withdrawal can actually be. You can support him, but if he comes to need medical care, he should be monitored and taken care of by a professional staff.

Merleen
10:06 am December 22nd, 2015

I have been a party animal most of my youth.. as i have got older 75 i find i am drinking every 10 days’now starting to have blackouts.. takes one day to stay in bed…. I am going to try and go cold turkey and i will use anti=buz xxx

Scott
10:41 pm January 1st, 2016

After 30 years of drinking beer – started with two 16 oz. cans daily after work which then increased to a six pack after work and finally to a half case (12 a day) and more on weekends over the last two months, I made the decision to quit a few days ago. I have some mild symptoms of anxiety and sleep loss but otherwise feel ok. I also have been taking an anti-depressant (Effexor 150mg) daily for the last 8 years – which I will continue to take. Very rarely do I indulge in hard liquor, except for a martini every few months. I have no urges to drink during work or on weekdays (except after work to help “unwind”) and have never drank to the point of passing out. My blood work shows no signs of liver or kidney issues but the glucose is a bit high. I am making the decision on my own without professional help. Being that I am on the anti-depressant and also a prescription dosage of 10 mg of Clonazapam daily. I am wondering if these will aid in my recovery. I have not spoken to my doctor about quitting “cold turkey.” Being that I smoke only when I drink, I am confident that I will also cut way down on that as well. Thoughts, anyone?

Richard
5:04 pm January 6th, 2016

I quit drinking cold turkey. I could not taper. Once I had one or two drinks, I would drink everything that was left. I did have support from my family, and I did attend at least one AA meeting a day for about two years. Going to the meetings kept me focused on staying sober even if I felt I didn’t get anything out of a particular meeting. I have been sober for over ten years.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
11:37 pm January 6th, 2016

Thanks for sharing, Richard. Hope your post will inspire our readers. All the best!

Darrell
4:05 am January 10th, 2016

I quit Cold Turkey for five days and find out this. What are the consequences of starting back and then tapering off

Prince
2:45 pm January 10th, 2016

Just wanted to share — may be helpful to someone. I’ve been a heavy drinker (everyday a bottle of two of wine and at least 6-8 shots of tequila) and took prescribed adhd pills for easily more than 5 years. I’ve passed out, dont remember things and also ate crappy, crappy junk food and only drank alcohol and coffee. I hated 2015, lost my marriage, tried to start dating and my issues became apparent–dating failed (and I met some great men-darn!) I am still a fairly attractive woman have a high-paying job and am close to 50. For whatever reason (maybe a higher power) I just evaluated my life and stopped everything (cold turkey) and decided to also give up processed food, drink only water and herbal peppermint tea and very little sugar/starch,… I also got a trainer and started working out. I’ve had only a few minor headaches, surprisingly have gained a couple of pounds and I’m working on learning and doing new things. I have not gone to sports bars or lounges yet, though I primarily drank at home, but I feel really good. I know cold turkey is considered a horrible idea, but I now truly understand the concept of “when it’s over, it’s over” and know how difficult it is to get in this place. I think this is the only thing (Including people and all situations I’ve experienced) I’ve truly been done and over with and have absolutely no desire to return to–in my almost 5 decades on this earth. I hope this is helpful to someone. Have a great 2016 and life.

christopher
6:45 pm January 13th, 2016

I’ve been drinking every night for years and suddenly stopped is it safe to do so

Mike
8:27 pm February 25th, 2016

I’ve been drinking a 12 pk of 16oz volume and two 24oz cans of beer everyday for about 8 months . I only dranked 5 cans of 16oz of beer last night and experienced my first withdrawal symptoms . What should I do ?

Jacqueline
11:35 am May 9th, 2016

I am going cold turkey at home it’s been 48 hours since any alcohol. I live alone but have telephone support from friends.I have history of alcohol abuse..my G.P. phoned & I asked for some extra diazepam to help get me through next few days..I take 4mg-Diazepam daily anyway which’s in my closet box delivered by my pharmacy..I also take 3.75mg Zopiclone it was reduced few weeks ago as I had been on 7.5mg daily for last 5 years…I feel I need more help with medication to help prevent a seizure..my b.P. is quite high & to go back to G.P to get checked am also type 2 diabetic & recently diagnosed with under active thyroid to start on small dose thyroxin 50 microgrammes..I also suffer depression & take 60mg Prozac daily..am awaiting duty officer from C.A.T. team RETURNING my call,the last time they didn’t but my G.P. advised me today to contact them..Am wondering should I not be getting monitored in rehab or at home & on more effective medication?..Would appreciate your response.
Thankyou.

Sarah
2:34 am May 19th, 2016

I have been drinking 6-10 beers a night for a year. I weigh 110 pounds. Is it advise able that I quit cold turkey at those levels?

Richard
3:33 pm May 23rd, 2016

I had a severe alcohol problem for eleven years. I quit cold turkey. I did go to at least one AA meeting a day for about two and a half years and I had strong support from my family. I just dropped the drinking one day without medication or detox. Today I have been sober for ten years. In two months, I will have been sober for as long as I was drinking.

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