Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey: What You Need to Know First

Medically Reviewed

Addiction to alcohol is a disease that affects people of all ages, races, genders, ethnicities, and socioeconomic backgrounds. It can cause physical changes to the brain that affect behavior, create dependence, and keep people from staying sober. When someone is struggling with alcoholism, all aspects of their life are likely to be affected. Personal relationships, productivity at work, and ability to fulfill responsibilities will all eventually suffer at some point.

When enough becomes enough, you may decide that you want to get sober, and you want to get sober fast.

Because the brain and body have become physically and chemically dependent on alcohol to function, there can be serious side effects if alcohol is suddenly taken out of your system. Recovery from alcoholism is a lifelong process, so be patient in taking the steps necessary to safely detox from alcohol and get yourself on the path to recovery.

Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

Quitting alcohol cold turkey, or suddenly stopping all consumption of alcohol, is not recommended. If your addiction to alcohol has led to a physical dependence on the substance, quitting suddenly puts you at risk for experiencing serious health problems.

In general, health experts do not recommend quitting alcohol cold turkey as it can put you at risk for serious withdrawal symptoms. Dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can appear within hours or days of your last drink.

  • Shaking
  • Headache
  • High blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Seizure
  • Hallucinations
  • Nausea
  • Confusion
  • Muscle weakness
  • Heart attack
  • Alcoholic ketoacidosis

Heart attack caused by low electrolyte levels during withdrawal, as well as severe seizures, can lead to death during the withdrawal process. For this reason, it is important to monitor your symptoms extremely closely, and medical professionals will do this in a detox program. Most people can withdraw from alcohol without encountering the most severe possibilities of withdrawal symptoms.

Precautions To Take Before Quitting

It is possible to quit alcohol safely, but you need to be aware of potential withdrawal symptoms and have a plan for how to address them safely. Precautions to take before going cold turkey include:

  • Consult with your doctor. Your doctor can conduct a physical checkup to see if you are relatively healthy or at risk if you suddenly quit drinking
  • Be ready to monitor your metabolic needs. Reduce your risk of adverse side effects by consuming lots of fluids, electrolytes, and maintaining healthy levels of vitamins and sugar.
  • Have over-the-counter medications on hand. Medication such as Tylenol can be used during the withdrawal process to alleviate mild symptoms like headache and nausea.
  • Have a close friend or family member around to provide support. Ask someone you trust to watch over you while you go detox. They can call for emergency medical help if complications arise.

If you are determined to go cold turkey to quit drinking, it is important to take many precautions to ensure your health throughout the process. This should only be done in cases of mild alcohol abuse and with consent from a supervising physician.

When Not To Quit Cold Turkey

While some people may be able to quit using alcohol safely and successfully by stopping use altogether, there are certain circumstances under which you should not attempt to do so. People who have a history of alcohol withdrawal, are heavy drinkers, or have been addicted to alcohol for more than 10 years are not recommended to go cold turkey.

When alcohol addiction is severe, medically assisted detox is absolutely required, and it is often recommended in all cases of alcohol abuse. Potential complications from alcohol withdrawal are many, and medically assisted detox can reduce the chances of those complications arising. Medical professionals who work in a detox setting are experienced in administering medications that not only make the detox process more comfortable, but they also make it safer.

Through medically assisted detox, mild symptoms like nausea and anxiety can be treated as well as more serious symptoms like seizures. Not only do these medications help to alleviate the strains of the withdrawal process, they also support long-term recovery. Studies have found that people who receive medically assisted detox are more likely to maintain their sobriety following treatment than people who don’t receive medical assistance or attempt to detox on their own.

How To Make Quitting Alcohol Easier

Quitting alcohol can be easier if you have a strong support system behind you. Getting sober is a difficult process, and maintaining sobriety will be a lifelong endeavor. In addition to engaging support from close friends and family members, participating in community support groups can be invaluable to your recovery process.


Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, is one of the most widely known 12-Step programs that support people in recovery. Free community support meetings are run every day all over the world for people who are recovering from alcohol addiction. Hearing and sharing stories from peers who have had similar struggles in addiction help to create a sense of community and support that makes quitting alcohol easier.

Along with finding strong community support networks to join, it is important to remove as many triggers for alcohol use in your life as you can. This can include no longer frequenting your favorite bar and not hanging out with the friends you used to drink with. Replacing activities that used to revolve around alcohol with healthier lifestyle choices, as well as surrounding yourself with people who support your recovery, will make quitting alcohol much easier.

Making The Decision

The severity of withdrawal symptoms that you can expect to experience really depends on how chemically dependent you have become on alcohol. High levels of alcohol consumption on a daily basis for many years are more likely to lead to complications during withdrawal than lower levels of abuse.

In addition to the possibility of experiencing unpleasant physical withdrawal symptoms, you are likely to experience mental and emotional challenges as well. Dealing with cravings to drink alcohol, as well as facing symptoms of anxiety and irritability that may arise, can be quite challenging to handle on your own. If you have a significant support system at home, you may be able to handle these challenges outside of rehab. For most people, however, traditional rehab programs will provide the safest physical, mental, and emotional support necessary to safely see you through the process of alcohol withdrawal.


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