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  • Withdrawal: Why You Shouldn’t Quit Drinking, Drugs, or Opioids Cold Turkey

If you’ve ever quit a habit or heard someone else discuss quitting, you probably have heard the phrase “quitting cold turkey.” Whether your vice is alcohol, cigarettes, caffeine, or sugar, to quit them “cold turkey” means to swear off completely – no ifs, ands, or buts.

Going “cold turkey” has become synonymous with quitting smoking, but individuals also have adopted the saying for abruptly quitting alcohol and hard drugs. Withdrawing from alcohol and drugs without medical assistance, however, is dangerous and often proves ineffective for long-term recovery.

This is why it is so important to go to a treatment center that offers medical detox services and clinical specialists who can monitor the withdrawal process. Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) also is a type of detox program that combines the use of federally-approved medication with cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically appear within six to 24 hours, ranging from irritability, agitation, confusion, restlessness, and difficulty sleeping to headaches, shaking, sweating, sensitivity to sound and light, nausea and vomiting, and even fever.

Because cocaine is such a fast-acting drug, most individuals quickly crash and begin experiencing withdrawal symptoms within a few hours of their last dose. Unlike the severe physical symptoms that are experienced during withdrawal from other drugs like alcohol and opioids, the symptoms of cocaine withdrawal are predominantly psychological and include restlessness, fatigue, anxiety, agitation, depression, paranoia, insomnia, nightmares.

Although the intensity and duration of withdrawal varies from person to person depending on the length of time they have used heroin and the dosage, typical withdrawal symptoms occur within 8 to 12 hours after their last dose and can include pain, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, muscle aches, anxiety, agitation, sleep problems, depression, runny nose, sweating.

Marijuana withdrawal symptoms usually appear within 24 hours of the last use, with some symptoms persisting for several months. THC is stored in fat cells and takes much longer to fully clear from the body compared to other drugs.1 The most commonly reported symptom of marijuana withdrawal is insomnia, but vivid dreams, nightmares, and headaches are also common symptoms.

Symptoms of meth withdrawal, which usually appear within the first 24 hours, commonly include depression, anxiety, irritability, fatigue, and even paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions.

Quitting opioids will trigger withdrawal in as little as 8-12 hours after the last dose. Some of the uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms associated with opioids include pain, muscle aches, abdominal cramping, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, intense cravings, anxiety, agitation, sleep problems, and depression.

Detox alone is not enough to undo a dependency on drugs or alcohol. Rather, medical detox is the first – and often most important – step for beginning treatment for an addiction or substance use disorder. Behavioral therapy is the cornerstone for creating new, healthy thought patterns and coping skills, which build a strong foundation for successful recovery.

The Origin of the Saying “Cold Turkey”

For those who love to add to their trivia knowledge, you may ask: Where does the phrase “quitting cold turkey” even come from? With Thanksgiving and the holidays coming up, here are the facts (so you can impress your family and friends).

Its origins can be traced back to 18th and 19th century America. Historical accounts seem to indicate that the phrase “talking turkey” original meaning was to talk in a deceitful or superficial way, similar to the way the phrase “flapping your gums” is used now.

A folkish retelling of the origins of the phrase first appeared in an 1837 article from the Niles’ Weekly Register:

“A [Native American] and a white man went shooting in partnership and a wild turkey and a crow were all the results of the day’s toil. The white man, in the usual style of making a bargain with the Indian proposed a division of the spoils in this way: ‘Now Wampum, you may have your choice: you take the crow, and I’ll take the turkey; or, if you’d rather, I’ll take the turkey and you take the crow.’ Wampum reflected a moment on the generous alternative thus offered, and replied – ‘Ugh! You no talk turkey to me.’”

By the end of the 19th century, however, the phrase changed meaning for unknown reasons and became more synonymous with talking frankly and directly. The phrase first appeared in print along with the qualifier “cold” to indicate this kind of straightforward way of communicating:

“I’ve heard [Reverend Billy] Sunday give his ‘Booze’ sermon, and believe me that rascal can make tears flow out of a stone. And furthermore he talks ‘cold turkey.‘ You know what I mean – calls a spade a spade.”  –The Des Moines Daily News (1914)

“Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon … are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, that are given what is called the ‘cold turkey‘ treatment.”  –The Daily Colonist, British Columbia (1921)

“She talked cold turkey about sex. ‘Cold turkey‘ means plain truth in America.”
The Daily Express, UK (1928)

If you are concerned about a substance abuse problem and wish to help yourself or a loved one, it is recommended that you consult with a medical professional or enlist the assistance of a certified detox and rehabilitation center.

Addiction Treatment Is the Safest Option for Quitting

At Landmark Recovery, we pride ourselves on offering leading, evidence-based treatment for those suffering from any kind of substance use disorder. After completing medical detox, our patients transition into the therapy phase of treatment. We proudly offer evidence-based addiction treatment programs that fully integrate individual and group counseling with various forms of proven behavioral therapies, including cognitive behavioral therapy, rational emotive behavior therapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy.

Visit our website to learn more about our drug and alcohol rehab options such as residential treatment and intensive outpatient.

About the Author

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Rachel Gaddis

Rachel Gaddis joined Landmark Recovery as a copy writer in 2021. Her writing covers a range of topics, from current events and new studies on addiction to recovery lifestyle tips and stories of hope. She is a graduate of Ouachita Baptist University and has worked in various marketing and editorial positions in her career.

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