What are the Dangers of Detoxing “Cold Turkey”?

Recovery from substance abuse is a difficult road, and many people who have overcome addiction report varying methods of success. Many people are familiar with the concept of quitting “cold turkey,” or immediately ceasing intake of the addictive substance. While this may sound like an acceptable technique to some, the reality is there are many dangers of going cold turkey. Alcohol and other drugs will cause varying reactions to quitting cold turkey.

Harmony Place wants our readers to understand the risks of quitting any substance cold turkey. It’s natural to expect some form of withdrawal after cessation, but quitting cold turkey without medical assistance is dangerous for some people struggling with addiction and can produce potentially deadly withdrawal symptoms.

The Dangers and Risks of Quitting Drugs and Alcohol “Cold Turkey”  

Withdrawal affects everyone differently, and factors such as age, overall health, pre-existing medical conditions, mental health disorders, and environmental influences can produce different withdrawal symptoms. The person’s drug of choice and the degree of addiction are also heavily influential in the withdrawal period. A person with a more advanced addiction will feel the symptoms of withdrawal more acutely and for longer than someone with a less advanced addiction. Quitting cold turkey can produce dangerous symptoms and make the sub-acute detox stage more difficult during recovery.

Medical assistance is immensely beneficial to the detox process. With medical supervision, a person undergoing detox can have help on hand if necessary and will typically receive nutritional support and medications to manage the symptoms of withdrawal. Different substances produce different withdrawal symptoms and therefore pose various medical risks to people at various stages of addiction. Before attempting to quit “cold turkey,” review the following risks associated with a few of the most commonly abused substances.

Dangers Of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey 

Alcoholism is one of the most medically dangerous forms of substance abuse because it can damage the entire body. At advanced stages, chronic alcoholism can cause permanent brain damage, organ failure, coma, and death. After an initial detox period, the person suffering from alcoholism will no longer have any alcohol in his or her system and will enter the sub-acute detox phase, which typically involves withdrawal symptoms. When quitting cold turkey, this phase begins as soon as the person metabolizes the last of the alcohol in his or her system. Without medical assistance during sub-acute detox, alcoholism can cause potentially fatal symptoms.

Within eight hours of entering withdrawal, those suffering from alcoholism begin experiencing nausea, anxiety, abdominal pain, and insomnia. By 24 to 72 hours following the last drink, he or she may experience an irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, confusion, and increased body temperature. After 72 hours, the third stage of withdrawal can entail high fever, hallucinations, seizures, and feelings of aggression. The severity of these symptoms typically depends on the level of addiction, so people struggling with advanced alcoholism will experience more significant symptoms.

Symptoms of Acute Alcohol Withdrawal 

Cold turkey alcohol detox can cause seizures, high fever, and hallucinations, which are potentially dangerous both for alcoholics and anyone around them. Many alcoholics are also dehydrated and malnourished, and medical assistance can include nutritional support to start rebuilding the body from inside. With medical assistance from trained substance abuse professionals like those at Harmony Place, these individuals can receive medications to safely manage their uncomfortable symptoms, along with emergency medical care if necessary.

Dangers Of Quitting Opioids Cold Turkey

The severity of withdrawal symptoms from opioids depends on the degree of addiction. People with severe opioid dependency experience worse withdrawal symptoms, which can include nausea, muscle pains, agitation, anxiety, depression, and intense opioid cravings. Opioids also disrupt the brain’s natural opioid system, causing the person only to experience dopamine release after consuming opioids. Dopamine is the brain’s “reward” neurotransmitter, responsible for generating feelings of pleasure. People suffering from opioid addiction cannot feel this chemical release without consuming opioids, making the withdrawal that much more unbearable.

Symptoms of opioid withdrawal often appear between 12 and 24 hours following the last dose. They can begin with feelings of anxiety and aggression and produce physical symptoms such as sweating, fever, hypertension, increased heart rate, and muscle aches. Withdrawal symptoms peak around 72 hours following the last dose and can escalate to stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea, severe depression, and more intense cravings for more opioids. Medical assistance makes these symptoms more manageable.

A cold turkey opioid detox is extremely dangerous. Medical assistance can provide nutritional support and medications, such as anticonvulsants and symptom-specific medicines to make the detox process easier. People with advanced opioid addictions also are prone to potentially fatal medical conditions such as respiratory depression and seizures. Medically assisted detox ensures help is nearby if needed. After the worst of the withdrawal symptoms subside and the patient enters sub-acute detox, opioids can cause lingering effects that require extensive and thorough treatment.

Dangers Of Quitting Benzodiazepines Cold Turkey 

Doctors prescribe benzodiazepines to treat anxiety and panic disorders, and these depressants help to relax the user’s body and mitigate intense psychological reactions to stressful situations. Benzodiazepines are habit-forming, and withdrawal often entails an amplified appearance of the symptoms the benzodiazepines originally aimed to treat. It’s never wise to suddenly stop taking prescribed benzodiazepines for this reason, so a person with an addiction is at an even higher risk from a cold turkey benzodiazepine detox. Doctors will often recommend that patients taper off these medications gradually to avoid withdrawal and the appearance of symptoms from the original condition.

Withdrawal symptoms from benzodiazepines depend on various factors, such as the type of medication, the degree of dependency, average dose size and frequency, release rate of the medication, and the user’s medical status and underlying psychological state. The delivery method also influences withdrawal. A short-acting method, such as injection or snorting, can produce immediate effects and shorter-lasting withdrawal periods. Digesting benzodiazepines takes longer than other methods of delivery, and may postpone the onset of withdrawal in comparison.

How Can Medical Drug and Alcohol Detox Help? 

Benzodiazepine addiction requires a carefully considered cessation plan to help prevent severe withdrawal symptoms. Since benzodiazepines have such dramatic psychological effects, withdrawal symptoms can be unpredictable. Medical assistance provides supervision and emergency treatment if needed during the most difficult period of benzodiazepine addiction recovery.

Dangers Of Quitting Opioid Replacements Cold Turkey 

Many people recovering from opioid and heroin addiction rely on opioid replacement medications such methadone, suboxone, and naltrexone. These medications help people avoid the withdrawal symptoms of heroin and opioids and therefore produce similar effects to these medications when quitting cold turkey. Detoxing from suboxone cold turkey is no safer than attempting to detox from any other opioid.

Quitting Suboxone and methadone can still produce withdrawal symptoms, but the way these medications interact with other opioids can produce catastrophic results. Opioid replacements effectively block the receptors in the brain that typically latch onto ingested opioids. This means the user doesn’t experience the desired effects and can actually propel him or her into withdrawal symptoms faster. A person who quits an opioid replacement cold turkey may feel tempted to try another opioid to stave off cravings, only to experience a more profound withdrawal faster.

Rather than risk a cold-turkey suboxone detox, people who are currently taking suboxone or other opioid replacements should seek medical assistance for ceasing these medications. Suddenly stopping an opioid replacement may result in simply replacing an addiction to one substance with another. In most cases, tapering off of them gradually produces the best results and helps to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

Dangers Of Sub-Acute Detox 

When most people struggling with addiction imagine the idea of rehab, they fear the well-known symptoms of withdrawal from their drugs of choice. However, once the most intense symptoms subside and the sub-acute detox phase begins, many lingering issues make this time difficult for people recovering from substance abuse. It’s crucial for anyone struggling with an addiction to find a facility that offers sub-acute detox treatment. While it’s possible to find accessible facilities for an initial detox, this is only the first phase of recovery. There are still risks during sub-acute detox, and this period is when psychological and behavioral triggers are most influential.

What Does Sub-Acute Detox Treatment Entail? 

After the initial detox phase and the worst of the withdrawal symptoms, the patient in recovery will still feel lingering physical and psychological symptoms of the substance abuse. The sub-acute detox phase essentially bridges the gap between finishing detox and starting therapy. During this phase of treatment, physicians and treatment staff provide supervision, medications, and any other medical services the patient requires to safely begin addiction counseling.

Harmony Place provides sub-acute detox treatment because we know how beneficial it is to start addiction counseling with the focus and support this stage of treatment aims to provide. The early stages of addiction recovery are difficult, and attempting to quit cold turkey without any support is not only often ineffective; it can also be dangerous. Although many people may claim that quitting cold turkey worked for them, every person is different and therefore responds to addiction and withdrawal in different ways. Quitting cold turkey is uncomfortable and risky at best and life-threatening at worst. Medical assistance is the safer and more effective method of starting recovery.

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