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Quitting Cold Turkey can be dangerous for a multitude of reasons from a medical standpoint, but it also doesn't address the root cause of your addiction which usually lends to relapse down the road. Attending a rehab facility such as Hollywood Hills Recovery helps you address the mental and emotional behaviors or trauma that lead you to use, and work past them to facilitate a lasting recovery.
Our incredible intake team is ready to answer all your questions and guide you through the process.
March 11, 2023
Consider the idea of slamming the brakes down hard on a car going 90 miles an hour. It’s not a good idea! Tires are going to screech and the vehicle is doomed to skid, swerve uncontrollably, and possibly topple over.
That’s a pretty accurate metaphor for quitting ‘cold turkey’.
The expression means kicking a lousy habit all of a sudden. Over the years, it has come to be associated almost exclusively with quitting an addiction, be it drugs, nicotine, or alcohol. Some believe the phrase originated from the goose-pimpled, clammy skin that addicts suffer as a side effect of withdrawal - comparable to the texture of raw turkey left overnight in the fridge.
Whatever the origins of the phrase, quitting a habit abruptly can be challenging, if not dangerous or counterproductive. The idea that willpower alone is enough to overcome a debilitating habit is fundamentally flawed. Addictions wrack both body and mind, and the body has a mind of its own, especially one that’s become habituated to a substance. So no matter how determined you are about letting go of an addiction, it may not be enough to just quit cold-turkey. Let’s understand why.
Getting used to change is always difficult. Both science (inertia, laws of motion) and common sense tell us it takes time to adjust and let things settle in. That’s why it’s hard to quit a habit even when we understand it’s bad for us.
Let’s take a more detailed look at the reasons why quitting cold turkey usually doesn’t work.
The brain chemistry underlying habits both good and bad is based on the chemical dopamine. Every time a behavior is repeated with an accompanying secretion of dopamine, the habit strengthens. When you stop the habit, dopamine causes cravings even if you no longer enjoy the addiction to a particular substance. In other words, habits become hard-wired in the brain and cannot be shaken off merely by choice.
The symptoms associated with cutting down on or stopping an addictive behavior are called withdrawal symptoms. They include nausea, shaking, insomnia, irregular heartbeat, pain, and others. These symptoms vary according to the substance and the degree of dependence. Quitting abruptly is likely to increase the severity of these symptoms drastically.
Withdrawal symptoms extend to the mind and emotions. Some common psychological symptoms of withdrawal include hallucinations, paranoia, depression, irritability, anxiety, confusion, and the tendency for self-harm. These negative effects can last for days, weeks, and even months. Just like physical symptoms, the effects of cold quitting can be extra hard to endure psychologically.
In a 2011 report, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) reported over 2.5 million emergency room visits linked to drug abuse. Of these, around 250,000 visits were from people seeking substance abuse treatment services. Substances with severe withdrawal symptoms like alcohol, prescription painkillers, and heroin should never be stopped cold turkey because they can prove dangerous and potentially lethal.
Research shows that quitting cold turkey has a far lower chance of success than gradual cessation. Of a hundred people attempting to quit smoking all at once, only about three to five can hope to make it. In other words, more than 95% of people trying to quit nicotine in one go are likely to relapse. Considering that drugs and alcohol are far more addictive than nicotine, quitting abruptly is hardly a smart choice.
Weaning off severe or even moderate addiction requires the supervision of trained medical personnel. The process needs to be overseen scientifically. It’s all the more important when there are pre-existing medical conditions like heart disease, high or low blood pressure, and mental health issues. Quitting cold turkey usually means doing it away from necessary medical supervision.
No one with any therapeutic knowledge of drug use and cessation will ever recommend going cold turkey. That means anybody who decides to go that way is usually acting alone and without the support of family and friends. Having a caring and understanding support network can be crucial in helping someone stay off drugs or alcohol. Just another reason why going cold turkey usually doesn’t work.
Another important part of treating substance abuse is behavioral treatment. It involves individual or group therapy sessions, usually administered in a residential or in-patient setting when the level of dependence is reasonably high. Quitting cold turkey means you’ll likely not have access to this critical component which goes a long way in determining successful cessation.
Quitting a drug or alcohol habit is much more than just about detoxing your body and curing it of dependence. The best practices of successful rehabilitation are aimed at getting to the root causes of addiction. Social and economic background, medical history, and personality attributes all need to be factored in for a successful recovery. Cold turkey quitting is largely devoid of these holistic considerations.
Even if you choose to disregard all the above reasons, trying to quit cold turkey doesn’t cut it on a common-sense level. A body that has grown dependent on a substance after years or even decades of abuse is unlikely to simply surrender to the force of willpower. It doesn’t matter what you think or believe: quitting a harmful dependence is something that needs to be handled by experts, not by expectations.
According to the latest government figures, over 25% of Americans aged 18 to 25 years have a substance use disorder linked to either drugs or alcohol. The only bright side to these depressing statistics is that more than 9% of US adults have managed to successfully resolve a substance use problem.
Further, the success rate of assisted recoveries happens to be substantially higher at 54%, than the 46% for unassisted recoveries. More encouragingly, between 85% to 95% of drug users who enter a rehab program report being sober nine months after treatment. The rehab success rate for those who detox before treatment is 68%. These statistics prove that getting into rehab offers you much better chances of recovery from substance dependence.
After all, kicking that bad habit is all about giving yourself a second chance. A second chance at life, health, and happiness! At Hollywood Hills Recovery, we are firm believers in offering our clients that second chance.
Our guiding principle is helping people recover from addictions for good. So that they are no longer defined by their dependence, but are instead empowered to redefine their lives.
Nestled amid the hills of Los Angeles, our premier substance abuse treatment and recovery center comes as a breath of fresh air. Amenities include an outdoor gym and personal trainer, home entertainment systems, a private chef, and sober outings. Book now for admission to Hollywood Hills Recovery!