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Dangers of Quitting Drinking Cold Turkey

When it comes to abstaining from an addictive substance, some people believe in tapering off slowly, while others believe in stopping consumption immediately. If you or someone you love engages in alcohol abuse, you may be wondering “Is it dangerous to quit alcohol cold turkey?”

Alcohol Addiction by the Numbers

When it comes to substance use disorders, the specific substance that more people become addicted to than any other is alcohol. Fourteen million adults in the U.S. struggle with an addiction to alcohol, with over 400,000 young people ages 12-17 also dealing with this illness. Only 6-7% of those who have an addiction to alcohol each year actually seek treatment for it.

Those who find themselves unable to stop their compulsive drinking often reach a point where they want to commit to becoming sober. Part of what makes it difficult for them is not knowing if they should quit drinking cold turkey, which means stopping all alcohol consumption at once. Many people aren’t certain what withdrawal will feel like and if it can be done solo.

Despite how many people addicted to alcohol believe it to be a mood elevator, it is actually a depressant. It slows down a person’s brain function and alters the way nerves send messages in their body. The body becomes acclimated to operating this way, which makes the sudden loss of alcohol it has depended on result in withdrawal symptoms. This means it can be dangerous to quit alcohol cold turkey, particularly when done without professional, round-the-clock medical care. Having that kind of care greatly reduces the risks involved.

The Stages of Withdrawal From Alcohol Abuse

When a person quits drinking cold turkey, they typically experience what’s called acute withdrawal symptoms first. These symptoms include many physical maladies and they begin as early as a few hours after the last drink a person consumes. Symptoms can include:

  • Headaches
  • Body aches
  • Increased heart rate
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness

For some, symptoms such as hallucinations and seizures may occur, typically 12-48 hours after their last drink. 

After initial detoxification and any resulting symptoms it causes, some people experience Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome or PAWS for short. While the effects of PAWS can include some physical ailments, they present more in the form of emotional and psychological difficulties.

Symptoms of PAWS can include the following: 

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings
  • Trouble focusing and thinking clearly
  • Decreased appetite
  • Problems dealing with stressful feelings

Approximately 5% of people going through alcohol withdrawal develop delirium tremens, often referred to as the “DTs”. Delirium tremens usually develops somewhere 48-72 hours after a person had their last alcoholic drink. Symptoms of DTs can include a racing heart, fever, heavy sweating, and mental confusion. A person suffering from delirium tremens often needs hospitalization, in part because of the risk of this condition turning deadly.

Professional Supervision When Quitting Drinking Offers Many Benefits 

The answer to the question of if it is dangerous to quit alcohol cold turkey is that it can be, particularly if someone does it alone. The many side effects that often occur during acute withdrawal from alcohol and post-acute withdrawal syndrome make it potentially dangerous for someone to attempt quitting drinking without professional help. 

Withdrawal from alcohol in a clinical setting offers the safest way for someone who finds themselves ready to leave their addiction behind. Detoxification and other residential treatment programs provide trained professionals who can identify withdrawal symptoms and offer assistance in combatting them. 

The initial acute withdrawal symptoms can often be eased via medication-assisted treatment administered by a medical professional. Longer-term PAWS symptoms can be managed in residential and sober living house environments. 

Professional Treatment Addresses Mental Health Issues and More

In addition to helping to deal with withdrawal symptoms, professional treatment programs often offer assistance with co-occurring mental illnesses. Co-occurring diagnoses, also known as dual diagnosis, involve having one or more mental health conditions in addition to a substance use disorder. 

About half of all people with an addiction to drugs or alcohol also have at least one mental health problem. Having this diagnosed and a treatment plan formulated for managing it can make a world of difference for many who otherwise might not get help for their mental health. Because addiction can aggravate mental health symptoms and a mental illness can increase a person’s urge to use drugs or alcohol, this makes addressing both conditions simultaneously effective and important.

Many treatment programs address the nutritional needs of their clients. Residential programs may offer medical assessments to help people understand how to eat a healthier diet. Sober living houses often offer nutritional counseling and the opportunity to shop for and prepare food with a person’s peers within the home. 

Alcohol Addiction Treatment in California

If you want to start living a sober life but are worried about withdrawal symptoms, Riviera Recovery can help you. We offer sober living housing in Southern California to young adults who want to learn how to manage their sobriety and prepare for living their new lives. Our houses are gender-specific and pet-friendly. We offer partnership programs for several kinds of therapy, holistic treatment, and experiential activities. 
If you are ready to leave your alcohol addiction behind, contact Riviera Recovery now to find out how we can help you take control of your life.