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Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey | Side Effects, Dangers, & Safer Alternatives

Published on August 20, 2021
Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey | Side Effects, Dangers, & Safer Alternatives

Some people may think quitting alcohol cold turkey is the best way to stop drinking, but it can actually lead to serious side effects and can even be life-threatening.

With chronic alcohol consumption, the body eventually becomes used to the presence of alcohol and adapts to it being there. This is sometimes called alcohol dependence.

When you take it away after years of heavy drinking, alcohol withdrawal can set in and the central nervous system and the rest of the body must readapt to the lack of alcohol.

Side Effects Of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

When quitting alcohol cold turkey, symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are likely to occur if you’ve been a heavy drinker for some time. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms may include:

  • shaking
  • headache
  • high blood pressure
  • anxiety
  • increased heart rate
  • seizures
  • disorientation
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • insomnia
  • sweating
  • muscle weakness
  • fatigue
  • diarrhea
  • agitation
  • mood swings
  • loss of appetite

Is Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey Dangerous?

It can be extremely dangerous to quit drinking cold turkey. This is mainly due to the effects of alcohol withdrawal that can occur once you stop drinking. They can severely affect your health, but also make you want to go back to drinking again. 

Complications from withdrawal symptoms can be potentially fatal. If you’re quitting by yourself with no one there, you could suffer debilitating health issues before you ever get help.

Dangers Of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

Quitting alcohol without medical supervision is likely risky for someone with alcohol use disorder, which is also known as alcohol addiction or alcoholism.

Sudden alcohol cessation during the early stages of alcohol withdrawal can shock the body due to a lack of alcohol. The longer you’ve been dealing with alcohol abuse and the more severe your alcohol addiction is, the worse the dangers may be.

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe complication of alcohol withdrawal that brings on a variety of serious symptoms that may include:

  • grand mal seizures
  • cardiovascular problems
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • paranoia
  • violent outbursts
  • coma

These symptoms may occur within 48-96 hours of your last drink

Heart Problems

Heart problems can happen to anyone who attempts to quit drinking alcohol without medical supervision. The longer your drink, the more likely alcohol has damaged your heart, and the more harsh the effects can be when you try to quit.

Malnutrition

People with alcohol addiction may neglect their bodies and the nutrients they need. Additionally, alcohol can damage cells in the stomach. Both of these can lead to malnutrition.

Nutrient supplements and a healthy diet are likely given to those going through detox programs, but you may neglect this if you’re trying to quit cold turkey.

Dehydration

Dehydration is another danger for those going through alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol dehydrates the body, and withdrawal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can make it worse. Dehydration can also cause an electrolyte imbalance. 

Mental Illness

Depression and anxiety are also potential dangers for those going through alcohol withdrawal without supervision. In detox programs, mental health disorders can be monitored, but on your own, you may not notice them or get help. This can lead to relapse and even suicidal ideation.

Safer Alternatives To Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

There are many safe alternatives to quitting alcohol cold turkey. There are several avenues you can choose from rather than quitting alcohol on your own.

Your Healthcare Provider

If you’re planning on quitting alcohol, make an appointment with your doctor. They will likely be able to give you advice on the best ways to stay safe while quitting alcohol. They may even give you something to make the symptoms less severe.

Medication

There are multiple medications that can make the withdrawal process more comfortable. A medical professional can give you specific medication depending on your symptoms. Some of the most common medications include:

  • benzodiazepines like diazepam (Valium)
  • anticonvulsant medications like gabapentin (Neurontin)
  • anti-addiction medications like naltrexone to stop cravings

Medical Detox & Addiction Treatment

The safest way to quit alcohol is by attending a treatment program. Treatment can be inpatient or outpatient, but inpatient programs are more likely to have an alcohol detox program that allows you to have a safe place for withdrawal. 

Detoxification support ensures you stabilize during withdrawal to prepare for substance abuse treatment. Treatment programs also offer therapy, coping skills development, support groups, and more.

To find out if our treatment facilities are a good fit for yourself or a loved one, please contact us today.

Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
This page does not provide medical advice.

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment: Treatment Improvement Protocols - Physical Detoxification Services for Withdrawal From Specific Substances
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal
National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus - Alcohol Withdrawal
National Library of Medicine: StatPearls - Withdrawal Syndromes

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