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Medically Reviewed

5 Risks of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

- 8 sections

Medically Verified: August 10, 2023

Medical Reviewer:

Sahil Talwar, PA-C, MBA

medically-verified

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

When you drink alcohol your brain function slows down, changing the way your nerves send messages to one another. After regular alcohol abuse, your body adapts to the depressant effects of alcohol by acting in an overactive, heightened state. If you suddenly stop drinking alcohol, your brain will stay in this heightened state, causing you to experience the symptoms of withdrawal.

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be severe, sometimes causing life-threatening effects. As a result, you should never attempt to quit drinking alcohol cold turkey or at home. Anyone who is struggling with alcoholism should attend an alcohol detox and treatment program that can provide them with the proper care and manage their withdrawal symptoms.

What Does it Mean to Quit Drinking Cold Turkey?

Quitting something cold turkey means quitting it suddenly and abruptly. Rather than reducing the amount you drink over time, cold turkey means you stop drinking altogether at once.

The term “cold turkey” comes from the fact that drug and alcohol withdrawal often causes chills or goosebumps on the skin which can resemble gooseflesh or turkey flesh in cold temperatures.

What are the 5 Risks of Detoxing From Alcohol Cold Turkey?

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal that you will experience depend heavily on how severe your alcohol use disorder is. However, it can be difficult to predict this without the help of a medical professional. As a result, you should never attempt to withdraw from alcohol at home.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause tons of complications, from life-threatening seizures and psychosis to conditions like delirium tremens or wet brain syndrome. Here are 5 reasons you shouldn’t quit drinking cold turkey.

1. Seizures

Between 2% and 5% of alcoholics experience withdrawal seizures.[1] While withdrawal seizures might not be common, without medical assistance there is no way for you to predict whether you will be a part of that statistic.

Certain factors increase your risk of experiencing alcohol withdrawal seizures. For example, individuals who have been through alcohol withdrawal before are at a higher risk of seizures due to something known as the “kindling effect.” Each time you experience alcohol withdrawal your brain’s threshold for seizures is reduced, so the more times you have detoxed from alcohol, the more likely you are to experience seizures.

2. Hallucinations

Alcohol withdrawal, in severe cases, can cause tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations.

Alcohol withdrawal hallucinations occur among 3 to 10% of patients between 12 hours and 7 days after alcohol cessation.[2]

Experiencing these hallucinations can put you at risk of bodily harm, whether it is accidental or self-inflicted. Hallucinations can also lead to severe anxiety and panic attacks. As a result, it is important to seek help from an alcohol detox facility.

3. Psychosis

Another serious risk of quitting alcohol cold turkey is psychosis. While the exact cause of alcohol-related psychosis is unknown, it is thought to be related to changes in dopamine, serotonin, and other neurotransmitters.[3]

The symptoms of alcohol-related psychosis include:

  • Difficulty thinking clearly or concentrating
  • Paranoid thoughts and ideas
  • Social isolation
  • Difficulty distinguishing reality from fantasy
  • Delusional thoughts
  • Hallucinations
  • Agitation and violent behavior

4. Delirium Tremens (DTs)

If you have been abusing alcohol for a long time, you are at an increased risk of developing a condition known as delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are a form of severe alcohol withdrawal that can cause life-threatening symptoms like seizures, heart complications, and more.

The symptoms of delirium tremens include:[4]

  • Agitation
  • Global confusion
  • Disorientation
  • Hallucinations
  • Fever
  • Hypertension
  • Diaphoresis
  • Tachycardia
  • Tremors
  • Seizures

DTs have a mortality rate of between 5 to 15% when left untreated.[5] Because of this risk, you should never attempt to detox at home.

5. Relapse

Quitting alcohol cold turkey can result in an array of uncomfortable, painful, and even life-threatening symptoms. It can also cause intense cravings. As a result, many people begin feeling tempted to drink again in an attempt to alleviate their symptoms. It is common for people who try to quit alcohol suddenly or without medical help to relapse before completing detoxification.

Find Help from an Alcohol Detox Center Today

If you or a loved one are struggling with alcoholism, it’s crucial to understand that overcoming this addiction requires professional help. Attempting to quit alcohol abruptly, commonly known as “going cold turkey,” can expose individuals to severe health risks, including life-threatening conditions and unexpected complications.

Fortunately, specialized facilities like the Charlotte Detox Center are dedicated to providing comprehensive support during this critical phase. Our alcohol detox center is designed to address both the physical and emotional aspects of withdrawal, ensuring a safer and more comfortable journey to sobriety.

At the Charlotte Detox Center, our experienced medical professionals carefully assess each individual’s unique needs. We provide medically supervised detoxification, utilizing appropriate medications to manage withdrawal symptoms and mitigate the potential dangers associated with quitting alcohol. This approach helps ensure a more manageable and less distressing withdrawal process.

Moreover, our program goes beyond the medical aspects. We offer a supportive environment where individuals can gain valuable insights into their addiction, learn coping strategies, and start building a strong foundation for long-term recovery. Our team of compassionate experts understands the challenges you face and is committed to guiding you or your loved one toward a healthier, alcohol-free life.

To take the first step towards a brighter future, learn more about our comprehensive alcohol detox program by contacting the Charlotte Detox Center today. We’re here to help you or your loved one reclaim control and embrace a life free from the grips of alcoholism.

References:

  1. Science Direct: Withdrawal Seizure, Retrieved August 2023 From https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/medicine-and-dentistry/withdrawal-seizure
  2. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal, Retrieved August 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6761825/
  3. The National Library of Medicine (NLM): Alcohol Related Psychosis, Retrieved August 2023 From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459134/
  4. Medscape: Delirium Tremens, Retrieved August 2023 From https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/166032-overview?form=fpf
  5. Science Direct: Delirium Tremens, Retrieved August 2023 From https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/neuroscience/delirium-tremens

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