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The Dangers of Cutting Cold Turkey

Unfortunately, quitting any substance cold turkey can come with risks. The most common and intense risk for anyone in recovery is the risk of relapse. There are also risks of illness, major health issues, or in severe cases even death. Do not be discouraged by the risks of quitting. Through research and proper support, it is possible to achieve sobriety and live a full, sober life. 

Expectations vs. Realities of Withdrawals: 

The expectation of quitting cold turkey is that there will be withdrawals, but in the end, you’ll be a stronger person with a clear, sober mind. Not to sound discouraging, but if you’re quitting unassisted, cutting out substances cold turkey could be very dangerous. It’s unrealistic to think that if you quit cold turkey once without help, you’ll be sober for the rest of your life. These strong withdrawal effects may leave you writhing in pain, increasing the possibility of relapse if the withdrawals get too intense. Here is a list of the realities of withdrawal symptoms from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and The U.S. National Library of Medicine for certain substances: 

  • Alcohol: Sweating, agitation, headache, not thinking clearly, insomnia, fatigue, depression, and mood swings. 
  • Opioids (prescription or otherwise): Restlessness, muscle and bone pain, insomnia, diarrhea, vomiting, cold flashes, and leg movements.
  • Sedatives and Tranquilizers (prescription or otherwise): Seizures, anxiety, shakiness, agitation, insomnia, increased heart-rate/blood pressure/temperature, overactive reflexes, hallucinations, severe cravings. 
  • Cocaine: Fatigue, irritability, lack of pleasure, anxiety, agitation, and in some cases extreme suspicion or paranoia.
  • Stimulants (prescription or otherwise): Depression, tiredness, sleep problems
  • Steroids: Mood swings, tiredness, restlessness, loss of appetite, insomnia, lowered sex drive, depression.
  • Marijuana: Irritability, decreased appetite, trouble sleeping, and anxiety.
  • Tobacco: Irritability, attention problems, sleep problems, increased appetite.

Timeframes of withdrawal are also important to consider as you seek help with your addiction. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), these are the timeframes of withdrawal symptoms for addictive substances: 

  • Alcohol: 5-7 days
  • Opioids: 1-2 weeks (cut cold turkey) 2-3 weeks (with medically assisted tapering).
  • Benzodiazepines: 1-4 weeks (cut cold turkey), or 5-7 weeks (with medically assisted tapering).
  • Stimulants: 1-2 weeks
  • Marijuana: Approximately 5 days
  • Nicotine: 2-4 weeks

Although these symptoms and their time frames look highly intimidating, it’s not impossible to quit. Read on for information and resources to help you. 

The Effect of Support: 

Many people who choose to quit, cold turkey or not, find that having a supportive adult to assist and encourage is crucial to success. Support could include a responsible friend, a loving family member, a partner, or anyone at your local hospital or rehabilitation facility. The Social Research Center in Baltimore has proven that familial or friendly support has a positive outcome on recovery from substance abuse and that patients who had social support were more likely to succeed in their recovery. However, this data did not account for those who lack good social support–good social support meaning that the supporting individual is competent/fully able to help, improves the patient’s mental health, and will not expose the patient to an addictive environment. 

For those who feel alone, or that their social support would not be up to the challenge of assisting you in your recovery, you do have access to help. Finding support in local rehabilitation facilities, hospitals, or substance-free groups in your community is possible.

Resources (and How to Try): 

Rehabilitation facilities, your local hospital, and addiction support groups are great places to start as a resource for quitting. This is a brave and momentous decision, and it will not come without its trials and tribulations. 

Anytime someone is quitting a substance, they need a safe space to do so. According to The World Health Organization (WHO), there are safe, tried, and true practices to help with withdrawal symptoms.

Some methods of safe withdrawal include: 

  • Providing a calm and quiet area for withdrawal
  • Providing a place to lie down, or participate in calming activities
  • Providing soothing, realistic information about the withdrawal symptoms and what may still happen. 
  • Providing company if needed.
  • Providing a tapered response to withdrawal by administering smaller and smaller doses of the drug over a period of time prescribed by a licensed professional at a hospital or rehabilitation facility. 

Be sure to contact a health professional, rehabilitation specialist, a national helpline, or a combination of the three sources for help in quitting. Quitting is a momentous part of your life, and you do not need to do it alone. There are great resources to help you, such as SAMHSA, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), Partnership for Drug-Free Kids, American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), your local hospital, or your local rehabilitation facility. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, do not hesitate to find help. Achieving sobriety and a new life in recovery is possible with the help and guidance of professionals. At RECO Intensive, we know the addiction and withdrawal process because we’ve been there before. At RECO Intensive, you can meet our esteemed alumni and learn that you too can thrive in your sobriety. The road to recovery is not easy, but with the support and guidance offered at RECO Intensive, you can achieve sobriety. RECO Intensive offers a myriad of therapies, support groups, activities, and a safe place for you to find yourself again. We can guide you through your withdrawal, and help you get to a place in recovery where you feel confident to thrive and prosper as a sober, clear-minded individual. You are important, and your journey begins here at RECO Intensive. For more information about RECO Intensive, please call (561) 464-6533.

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