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Can An Alcoholic Quit Cold Turkey?

by Demarco Moore

July 13, 2023
a woman experiences nausea and vomiting and needs medication after trying to quit alcohol cold turkey

Can an alcoholic quit cold turkey? Yes, they can. However, it’s important to note that quitting “cold turkey” can be dangerous and isn’t recommended without medical supervision offered at alcohol detox centers.

Let’s dive deeper into this topic, bust some myths, and provide valuable insights to help you and your family understand the journey of quitting alcohol.

Key points in this blog:

  • An alcoholic can quit cold turkey, but it’s unsafe and often ineffective without medical supervision.
  • Quitting at home can lead to severe withdrawal symptoms and life-threatening health complications.
  • Professional help from alcohol rehab centers provides a safer environment and a more effective recovery path.
  • Alcohol rehab centers like Landmark Recovery offer alcohol addiction treatment programs customized to match individual circumstances.

What Does it Mean to Quit “Cold Turkey?”

When someone tries to quit alcohol cold turkey, they stop drinking alcohol abruptly instead of tapering or weaning off. This method can work for some, especially those less alcohol dependent. However, for those with severe alcohol use disorder (AUD), quitting cold turkey can lead to serious and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.

Related Story: The Origin of the “Cold Turkey” Phase

What is Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD)?

Alcohol use disorder is a chronic disease where people struggle to stop or control alcohol use despite negative social, job, or health consequences. It’s a broad term that covers anyone battling alcohol abuse or addiction. If you or someone you care about drinks excessively, consider seeking help from alcohol rehab centers like Landmark Recovery.

Related Story: The Cost of Alcohol Use Disorder

Asking for help isn’t a moral failure – that’s the stigma of addiction — but a sign that you recognize the problem and are ready to try something different – a life without relying on alcohol. 

Call 888-448-0302 today to speak to a Patient Navigator about alcohol rehab on a confidential phone line anytime, day or night. 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms After Quitting

When you stop drinking alcohol, your body might react in different ways. This is known as withdrawal. The symptoms can range from slightly uncomfortable to serious and even fatal. If you binge drink (4 or more drinks for women, 5 or more for men) and then try to quit, you might feel the following:

  • Shaking
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat

In more serious situations, quitting cold turkey could lead to alcohol seizures.

How Long Until You Start Feeling Withdrawal?

Research shows that withdrawal symptoms can appear six hours after your last drink. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says symptoms can worsen over the first 24 to 48 hours and last for weeks.

The Dangers of Quitting At Home

a man has severe headaches while trying to quit alcohol cold turkey at home

It might seem safe and convenient, but quitting alcohol cold turkey at home can be risky. If the body gets used to a certain level of alcohol, it can react negatively when the supply is suddenly cut off. The Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology warns that alcohol withdrawal syndrome happens in about 50% of patients with AUD. One other risk facing people who attempt to quit alcohol alone is called Deliriums Tremens (DTs), which can cause hallucinations and tremors and be fatal without appropriate medical intervention.

Professional Medical Care: A Safer Path to Recovery

Quitting alcohol under medical supervision in a professional setting like a hospital or alcohol rehab center is safer than home detox and often more effective. A study published in the Future Healthcare Journal found that a medically-supervised alcohol detoxification program at a hospital resulted in over a third of patients maintaining sobriety for a year. At Landmark Recovery, expert medical professionals are available 24/7 to monitor withdrawal symptoms, manage any physical complications or co-occurring mental health issues, and provide a supportive environment for recovery.

Inpatient Rehab vs. Outpatient Rehab

Choosing between inpatient rehab and outpatient rehab can depend on the following factors:

  • How severe your alcohol addiction is
  • Your physical health
  • Your commitment to recovery

Inpatient rehab involves a residential stay at a treatment facility like Landmark Recovery, while outpatient rehab allows you to live at home while attending daily treatment sessions.

How Long Does Alcohol Rehab Last?

Generally, alcohol rehab can last from 30 to 90 days. But remember, everyone is different – just like we don’t all wear the same size shoes, rehab isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. Your rehab stay or your loved one’s time in residential treatment might extend beyond 90 days. It’s okay to take more time to heal and learn how to manage emotions and stressful situations without turning to alcohol.

The Influence of Addiction Severity

Several elements can influence the rehab timeline, with the severity of the addiction playing a pivotal role. Someone struggling with alcohol dependence for many years might need a longer rehab program than someone in the early stages of alcohol addiction.

The Impact of Mental Health

Another key factor is the presence of any co-occurring disorders,  such as anxiety or depression. These mental health issues, also called dual diagnosis, often go hand-in-hand with addiction and take time and focused care to resolve. Consequently, if you struggle with co-existing addiction and mental health issues, your rehab period could be extended as medical experts work to treat both disorders simultaneously.

Rehab Isn’t A Race

The rehab journey is not a race. Recovery is a path toward healing, wellness, and a brighter future. Therefore, the timeline may adjust based on your progress and needs. It’s not about getting to the finish line the fastest; it’s about reaching it in the best possible health, armed with the tools and knowledge to maintain long-term sobriety.

Landmark Recovery: Your Partner on the Path to Sobriety

Find the support you need at Landmark Recovery. Our integrated alcohol addiction treatment programs include:

  • Inpatient rehab
  • Detox
  • Outpatient care 

Each program is tailored to your unique needs. Remember, taking the first step is a sign of strength, not weakness. Call our confidential admissions line at 888-448-0302 to learn more and start a guided path to recovery. We’re available 24/7/365 to provide the help you deserve. Reclaim your life from alcohol addiction with Landmark Recovery.

While an alcoholic can quit cold turkey, it’s often not the safest or most effective method, especially for those with severe AUD. It’s always best to seek professional help from reputable alcohol rehab centers like Landmark Recovery for a safer and more effective recovery journey.

Explore More

Check out these related articles to expand your knowledge and understanding of alcohol addiction and rehab:

Alcohol Addiction:

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About the Author

Demarco Moore

Demarco Moore

A graduate of Middle Tennessee State University, Demarco Moore currently writes blogs about drug addiction treatment and recovery to help save lives at treatment provider Landmark Recovery. Before that, he cut his teeth as a sports writer at the Manchester Times, where his coverage and stories won Tennessee Press Association awards in 2016 and 2017.

He’s always had a knack for storytelling. Moore’s written content for junior golf tournaments and helped to amplify the “People Not Profits” message of credit unions. When he’s not writing, Moore loves to travel, laugh and put his mental health into the hands of the Tennessee Titans during football season.