Is Quitting Alcohol “Cold Turkey” Safe?

Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

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In a world where nearly every home, restaurant, resort, and even nail salon has alcohol available, quitting is not easy. Some people chose to quit alcohol to lose weight, some do it for religious or spiritual reasons, some realize that their relationship with alcohol is unhealthy, and others are court-ordered to avoid the substance. Regardless of the reason, there are many well-known benefits to giving up alcohol. However, there may be some questions of risk for individuals who drink heavily. The biggest unknown is if quitting alcohol cold turkey is safe. Let’s take a deeper dive into various circumstances and how they affect the safety of quitting alcohol use.

What Happens When Regular Drinkers Give Up Alcohol

Alcohol is a toxin. When you drink it your body has to process and filter out this toxin, which can be… well, stressful. When you stop drinking, your body gets the opportunity to regulate any metabolic processes that may have been offset by alcohol. For an individual who drinks on a regular basis but not necessarily heavily, quitting alcohol intake for even a few days could be a pleasant break for the body. Now, quitting alcohol for an extended period of time is more likely to produce effects such as weight loss, increase in mood, better sleep, and more. 

What Happens When Heavy Drinkers Give Up Alcohol

A heavy drinker who decides to stop drinking alcohol is much more likely to have an unpleasant experience when they stop. Those who don’t drink heavy all the time may experience hangover symptoms the morning after drinking, such as a headache, nausea, and sensitivity to light. A chronic heavy drinker may begin to develop withdrawal symptoms in as little as 6 hours after their last drink. These symptoms can worsen over the next several days before tapering off. Although the milder withdrawal symptoms are safe, the severe symptoms are why quitting alcohol could be dangerous.

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of depression
  • Low energy
  • Shakes & tremors
  • Mood swings
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Nightmares
  • Dilated pupils
  • Sweating
  • Headache
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Appetite loss
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pale skin
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Delusions
  • Hallucinations (feeling, seeing, or hearing things that aren’t there)
  • High blood pressure

The Dangers of Alcohol Withdrawal

Quitting alcohol cold turkey is not safe when an individual is at risk for developing severe withdrawal symptoms such as delirium tremons. Only a small percent of recovering alcoholics develop these symptoms, but of those who do, only about 50% live through them. There is no way to know for sure if severe symptoms will develop, making the process of quitting alcohol dangerous and potentially deadly.

How to Safely Quit Drinking Alcohol

In most cases, quitting alcohol cold turkey is not just safe, it’s beneficial. However, individuals who have an alcohol use disorder should consult a doctor before quitting alcohol to develop a plan to stop using alcohol safely and permanently. There are times when it may be beneficial to get the help of an alcohol addiction treatment program or wean off the substance. Get started today on your journey to a sober life.

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