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Can I Quit Drinking Alcohol “Cold Turkey”?

Nearly everyone who has ever struggled with alcohol abuse has heard the words, “why can’t you just quit?” or “just don’t drink”. These people generally have good intentions and just want the best for you, but probably don’t have the medical background or awareness to know just how dangerous this can be.

Obviously, not everyone who drinks alcohol has to take cautious steps in order to sober up, but for those who have crossed the invisible line into dependency, quitting alcohol “cold turkey” could potentially be fatal. Don’t panic, the detox process is simple if performed under quality care, but painful, terrifying, and dangerous if attempted without medical supervision and without medication.

What Does Quitting Cold Turkey Mean?

The debate over the origin of the term “cold turkey” is still unsettled. To put it simply, the oldest known usages of the term point to “outright” as being the closest synonym. However, in relation to drug or alcohol addiction, it’s been theorized that people started using the term in the late 1970s. Herb Caen of the San Francisco Chronicle stated in 1978, “it derives from the hideous combination of ‘goosepimples’ and what William Burroughs calls ‘the cold burn’ that addicts suffer as they kick the habit.”

In Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime, Tom Philbin offers an alternate theory, that  “the term may derive from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawal, like a turkey that has been refrigerated”. Regardless of the etymology, quitting a substance “cold turkey” always has the same definition; it is the act of quitting an addiction to a substance, behavior, or habit abruptly.

Why is Quitting Alcohol More Dangerous than Quitting Other Drugs?

The side effects of detoxing from alcohol can be quite severe, depending on how often a person drinks and how much they drink. To illustrate what happens, I’ll use a personal experience since alcohol was always my drug of choice.

Towards the end of my active addiction, I needed at least four standard drinks to get out of bed (1 beer = 1 glass of wine = 1 shot, roughly) without full body shakes, projectile vomiting, cold sweats, and a chronic state of anxiety. This continued throughout the day, causing me to need about two handles of vodka daily. You see, at this point, I didn’t even want to be drunk anymore; I needed to drink to avoid getting very sick and to simply function.

Common minor side effects of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever, chills, excessive sweating
  • “The shakes”

Major side effects that can occur from severe alcohol abuse and alcoholism include:

  • Dangerously high blood pressure and stroke
  • Convulsions and seizures
  • Liver damage, fatty liver, cirrhosis, and liver failure
  • Delirium tremens, hallucinations, a complete break from reality
  • Coma and/or death

Due to the serious side effects that come along with quitting alcohol, it’s never advised to quit cold turkey. Friends and family may not understand and could pressure an alcoholic into “drying out”. It is imperative that you attempt to educate them on the seriousness of this problem. Prisons that operate ethically won’t even let an alcoholic go without medication to get them sober due to the risks involved.

So How Do I Quit Drinking Alcohol?

Medical detoxification is the safest, most effective, and most comfortable way to get physically sober. I know it sounds scary to leave your home and voluntarily put yourself into an “institution”, but it’s nothing like the movies make it seem.

If it weren’t for detox facilities, I wouldn’t be writing this blog right now. I wouldn’t be writing anything right now. I wouldn’t be here. (Turns out at one ER visit they told me that I was a day away from death!). In my final detox stay back before I got sober for the long-run, I was in a wheelchair for four days before my legs would stop shaking. The meds I received definitely helped ease my symptoms, and I was in no condition to be attempting this on my own.

Most of the time, there are no requirements to participate in any kind of group therapy or meetings, unless you’re interested. There is staff around at all times for when you’re really going through it. When your mind is running wild and you think you’re going crazy — you don’t necessarily want to be at home alone sweating it out on your couch. On the other hand, if you live with others, you won’t want them to be around during this time. Trust me on this one.

Have you tried to stop drinking on your own, but find you don’t get hangovers anymore? Do you wake up with your fingers shaking and need a little “hair of the dog” to start your day? We can help. Call Principles Recovery Center today at 1-866-692-0909.