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Quitting alcohol cold turkey

What Happens When You Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Quitting alcohol cold turkey can be challenging and even dangerous, especially if you have been drinking heavily for a long time. There is often a withdrawal period that can include side effects such as:

  • Shaking
  • Agitation
  • Sweating

There is no way to predict the severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms when you quit drinking cold turkey. They vary from person to person, but withdrawal symptoms can range from minor to life-threatening. While it may seem like quitting alcohol cold turkey is one way to take control of a drinking problem, it should always be done with medical help. Not only does this ensure your physical safety during withdrawal, but it maximizes your chances for long-term sobriety and successful alcohol addiction recovery.

What Is it Like to Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Quitting alcohol cold turkey means stopping alcohol consumption all at once. Alcohol withdrawal can be dangerous and deadly in some cases. It is one of the most severe withdrawals from substance abuse. You should never attempt to quit drinking cold turkey without medical supervision.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms:

1. Increased heart rate and blood pressure: When you stop drinking alcohol abruptly, your heart rate and blood pressure can significantly increase. This is due to the body’s sudden lack of depressant from alcohol.

2. Excessive sweating: After stopping drinking, your body may overcompensate with increased production of sweat to regulate its temperature.

3. Anxiety and restlessness: People who’ve been drinking heavily for an extended period of time may experience anxiety or restlessness due to a sudden decrease in alcohol levels.

4. Tremors and shaking: As the brain adjusts to being without alcohol, it can cause muscle tremors or shakes. This is due to a heightened level of adrenaline that surges through the body during alcohol withdrawal.

5. Nausea and vomiting: Feeling queasy or nauseous with potential bouts of vomiting is a common alcohol withdrawal symptom.

6. Insomnia: You may experience sleep disturbances such as insomnia or difficulty falling asleep due to an overactive mind that is still adjusting from not having access to depressants like alcohol.

7. Headaches/migraines: As your body removes toxins from excessive drinking, it can cause headaches or migraine-like symptoms. This is due to dehydration and any nutrient deficiencies from prolonged heavy drinking.

8. Vision changes/hallucinations: Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can lead to blurred vision and double vision. When you quit drinking cold turkey, you may also experience auditory and visual hallucinations as part of delirium tremens (DTs). 

9. Seizures/convulsions: if severe enough, withdrawal from heavy use of alcohol can trigger seizures if you’re already at risk for this condition. This is not common but should not be taken lightly. Seizures pose serious health risks if untreated by medical professionals. 

10. Irritability/agitation/mood swings: You may experience mood swings because alcohol acts on brain chemicals associated with mood and reward.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last?

Alcohol withdrawal is an uncomfortable process that can range from mild to life-threatening symptoms. The length of time it takes to go through withdrawal depends on factors such as:

  • How much you drink
  • How long you’ve been drinking alcohol
  • Your physical health
  • Any medical conditions you have
  • Co-occurring disorders

Alcohol withdrawal typically begins within eight hours after the last drink. It can last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. Alcohol withdrawal is usually divided into three distinct phases: mild, moderate, and severe (also known as delirium tremens).

Phase One: Mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms usually begin between 8 and 12 hours after the last drink. They can include things like:

  • Restlessness
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Headache
  • Fatigue

In mild cases these symptoms typically peak in intensity within 24 to 72 hours. They can last up to one week. Other signs of mild alcohol withdrawal may include:

  • Palpitations
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Shakiness or trembling in the hands and arms (tremors)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Irritability

Phase Two: Moderate withdrawal symptoms may begin between 48 and 72 hours after the last drink. This is sometimes referred to as acute alcohol withdrawal syndrome. During this phase, more serious side effects may begin. These can include:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Increased heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations or delusions (psychosis)
  • Fever
  • Seizures

This phase can last several weeks, with peak intensity between days five and seven. It may take longer depending on individual factors like your age, gender, and level of dependency.

Phase Three: Severe withdrawal syndrome, also known as delirium tremens (DTs), is considered an emergency medical situation. The DTs require immediate attention due to potentially life-threatening complications such as:

  • Extreme confusion
  • Disorientation
  • High body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Severe agitation
  • Seizures
  • Uncontrollable tremors

If left untreated, the DTs can lead to coma or death. They generally only occur in people who have had chronic alcohol abuse over a period of years with daily consumption. However, it can occur in people who don’t fit this profile too. Anyone who goes through alcohol withdrawal should be closely monitored by a medical professional regardless of severity level.

DTs typically appear within 72 and 96 hours after the last drink. There are reports of DTs starting as early as hours into withdrawal or up to two weeks later. This is why close medically monitored detox is so important.

It’s also important to remember that everyone goes through alcohol withdrawal differently. The length of each phase may vary depending on individual factors.

Is Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey Dangerous?

The dangers of quitting alcohol are many. For some people, the withdrawal symptoms associated with quitting alcohol can have serious consequences on their mental and physical health. For others, it may lead to an increased risk of relapse. For these reasons, quitting alcohol cold turkey is a bad idea. The first step should be to seek help from a medical professional. Detoxing from alcohol without assistance and monitoring can cause severe withdrawal symptoms, including seizures and delirium tremens. Furthermore, suddenly stopping drinking can result in depression, anxiety, insomnia, and agitation, which require clinical assistance. If you’ve abused alcohol for a long time, you may struggle with cravings when you quit drinking cold turkey. These cravings can be powerful enough to make you return to old drinking patterns despite knowing the potential negative consequences.

Can You Quit Drugs Cold Turkey?

Quitting drugs cold turkey is never advised. This approach can be potentially dangerous. Depending on the substance, it can lead to:

  • Cravings
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Exhaustion

Additionally, it can lead to physical withdrawal symptoms like:

  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Shakes
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Seizures

It is important to understand that quitting any substance completely and cold turkey can be a traumatic experience for your body and mind. Addiction is extremely powerful and does its job by creating strong neural pathways in the brain and body that are difficult to undo without professional help. It is not uncommon for people who quit cold turkey to become overwhelmed by the intensity of their emotions or physical symptoms, leading them back into daily use.

What Is an Alcohol Detox Program Like?

An alcohol detox program in an addiction treatment facility like Vogue Recovery Center helps you transition from heavy dependence on alcohol to a healthier lifestyle. A detox program typically includes:

  • 24/7 medical assessment and monitoring
  • Medications for withdrawal symptoms
  • Counseling
  • Support groups
  • Nutrition education

First, you’ll undergo a full medical exam to determine your overall health needs. A physician will assess any potential risks of detox. Vital signs such as temperature, blood pressure, and pulse will be taken regularly. In addition, you’ll have laboratory testing to detect alcohol levels in the blood. Medical professionals can then develop an individualized treatment program that takes into account your specific needs.

Counseling sessions are also included in alcohol detox programs at treatment centers. These individual therapy sessions focus on identifying triggers that lead to drinking. They help you develop strategies for avoiding relapse after alcohol detox. Additionally, weekly group therapy is often part of the program. This allows you to learn from others’ experiences and gain an understanding of various addiction issues.

Nutrition education is also an important part of many alcohol detox programs. It helps you understand how proper nutrition affects your overall mental health and well-being during recovery. You’ll learn about healthy food choices that provide essential nutrients for healing body systems damaged by long-term drinking. Healthy eating habits can reduce cravings for alcohol as well as boost energy levels for effective daily functioning during recovery.

To complement these core components of an alcohol detox program, a treatment center may offer additional therapies such as:

  • Yoga
  • Massage therapy
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic services

Treatment services vary by facility and individual treatment plan.

Don’t Quit Cold Turkey: Detox Safely and Comfortably at Vogue Recovery Center

Vogue Recovery Center offers medical detox and evidence-based therapies to provide an individualized experience tailored to your unique needs and goals. Our experienced team of professionals is committed to providing a safe and secure environment. Accommodations are comfortable and private, and our staff are experts in the field and passionate about their work.

We offer a comprehensive detoxification program tailored to your unique needs. Our medical team is qualified to use evidence-based practices that ensure safety and comfort throughout alcohol detox. We offer medications to ease withdrawal symptoms and cravings and keep you safe and as comfortable as possible. Following medical detox, we offer alcohol rehab, including inpatient treatment and outpatient treatment options, like partial hospitalization programs (PHP) and intensive outpatient programs (IOP). Call us today for a free, confidential consultation and to verify your insurance. Recovery is possible.



Medically Reviewed by Kelsey Jones, MS, LPC