Alcohol is the most regularly used addictive substance in America. It’s also easy to fall victim to alcohol use. The most shocking aspect of this socially accepted and widespread substance is that it’s also the most dangerous to quit. Alcohol is one of only a few drugs with withdrawal symptoms so severe that they can actually claim your life.
Many people struggling with alcohol addiction believe that quitting cold turkey is the fastest and easiest way to get clean. Yet, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Quitting cold turkey can put you at high risk for severe consequences.
Why Is It So Hard to Stop Drinking Cold Turkey?
There are two main reasons why it’s so hard to quit alcohol cold turkey — cravings and withdrawal. If you drink enough to develop alcohol dependence, your brain and body have to stabilize suddenly once you quit. After drinking for some time, your brain gets rewired to expect alcohol. Stopping produces cravings that can be difficult or nearly impossible to resist.
When you quit cold turkey, you may also experience debilitating withdrawal symptoms. Even the mildest pains can make you regret your decision to quit and push you to take your next drink.
What Factors Impact Your Success With the Cold Turkey Method?
While cravings and withdrawal symptoms are bound to impact your ability to quit cold turkey, a few other factors also play a significant role in your recovery success:
- The severity of alcohol misuse: Those who’ve struggled with an alcohol use disorder for a short time will have a different recovery experience than someone who has been a heavy drinker for many years.
- Medical complications: Heavy drinking can also lead to serious medical complications and internal organ failure. Quitting cold turkey means no medical supervision to address these issues.
- Relapse: No matter how little or infrequently you drink, those who quit cold turkey are at higher risk of severe relapse because of a lack of accountability.
Is It Safe to Stop Drinking Cold Turkey?
When you struggle with alcohol addiction, especially advanced alcohol use disorder, quitting cold turkey is never recommended. While withdrawal is not life-threatening in itself, several complications can arise with potentially fatal outcomes. Side effects such as convulsions, seizures, gastric bleeding and cardiac arrhythmia are a few ways people can die when attempting to quit alcohol cold turkey.
What Happens to Your Body When You Stop Drinking?
Alcohol withdrawal occurs after prolonged exposure to excessive alcohol intake that’s then reduced or stopped abruptly. Like many drugs, alcohol is a sedative. It relaxes the body and makes you feel sluggish or calm. Alcohol also impacts the pleasure centers of your brain, which is what makes it so highly addictive.
As time goes on, your brain adapts to heavy drinking. To adjust to alcohol’s sedative qualities, your brain’s chemistry goes into a state of hyperactivity so that it can continue functioning normally. When you suddenly quit, the absence of alcohol leaves a void that your brain is not ready to fill. This effect results in the dangerous and uncomfortable symptoms of quitting cold turkey.
The Side Effects of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey
Signs of alcohol withdrawal usually begin within 12 to 24 hours after quitting drinking cold turkey. When you stop drinking, alcohol is no longer activating the brain’s pleasure centers. Many experience intense anxiety or depression during this stage. Other withdrawal side effects range from mild to life-threatening, including:
- Muscle weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty concentrating
- Mood swings
- Irritability, aggression or hostility
- Loss of appetite
- Increased heart rate
Attempting to quit cold turkey without medical supervision also puts you in danger of developing life-threatening health problems involving your liver, heart, brain and nervous system.
What Is Delirium Tremens?
One of the most dangerous potential alcohol withdrawal symptoms is called delirium tremens. While rare, this neurological condition can be deadly without proper medical intervention. For those with severe alcohol addiction, delirium tremens can cause a host of dangerous symptoms, such as:
- Grand mal seizures
- Cardiovascular problems
- Violent outbursts
Safe, Effective Alcohol Addiction Treatment at Gateway Foundation
The safest and most effective way to quit alcohol is gradually and under the medical supervision of addiction professionals. At Gateway Foundation, our goal is to provide you with personalized alcohol addiction treatment that includes medically supervised detoxification to ensure your safety. We combine that treatment with a wide variety of evidence-based services to ensure you feel prepared to continue your recovery journey.
If you’re ready to commit to change and you want an addiction treatment experience curated to your needs, please contact us today to learn more.