For those with an alcohol use disorder who make the life-changing decision to stop using alcohol, it’s essential to understand the safest and most effective process to detox. Quitting cold turkey and alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be a dangerous mix.

Alcohol treatment centers offer medically monitored detox programs for those with an alcohol use disorder, often including medication-assisted treatment (MAT) to address the intense withdrawal symptoms during detox. Ending an alcohol use disorder cold turkey without professional help has a high percentage of relapse and can be life-threatening if withdrawal symptoms become extreme. 

What Does Cold Turkey Mean?

Those wishing to stop using alcohol often believe they can quit independently without professional help. Quitting alcohol cold turkey and alcohol withdrawal symptoms is often unsuccessful, leading to relapse and severe consequences.

Those who believe they can just stop drinking alcohol after developing a dependence on alcohol without understanding the process can give up because of the intensity of discomfort. The brain and the body become dependent on alcohol, and when usage suddenly stops, the body and brain are adversely affected. 

People have a natural fear of addiction treatment, it is generally an unknown, which breeds fear. Other factors, such as cost, lack of insurance coverage, and an interruption of lifestyle, are other factors that could lead someone with an alcohol use disorder to believe they can detox on their own.

According to the National Center for Drug Abuse Statistics, in a 2020 study, 140,557 people die in the United States from the effects of alcohol in an average year. Many people are unaware that excessive alcohol consumption can result in structural and functional changes in the brain and damage major organs in the body. 

Those who attempt cold turkey and alcohol withdrawal syndrome alone can face life-threatening consequences. The physical and mental ramifications of ending alcohol use after developing dependence require medical management.

Many vital body functions can shut down without warning, leading some people to believe it will end if they drink alcohol again. Unfortunately, it often ends badly, leading to alcohol poisoning, delirium tremens, and organ shutdown. 

Effects of Going Cold Turkey for Alcoholism

Alcohol slows or lowers the functions of the central nervous system because it is a depressant. People with an alcohol use disorder become dependent on alcohol, and the brain and body adapt to the effects. Suddenly removing alcohol from the body causes a hyper-sympathetic state in the body, causing severe withdrawal symptoms to occur.

Cold turkey and alcohol withdrawal syndrome are dangerous components of this unfortunate form of detox from an alcohol use disorder. Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) results from suddenly stopping alcohol consumption when a heavy drinker quits cold turkey. While severe withdrawal symptoms occur, delirium tremens (DT) is life-threatening and requires immediate medical treatment.

Another possibility that is highly dependent upon immediate treatment once recognized is Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome. Life-altering symptoms can occur if this lack of thiamine from malnutrition is not treated with a rapid infusion, including physically debilitating coordination problems and brain damage. 

Common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome can appear anywhere between 6 hours of the last drink of alcohol up to a few days and include any of the following:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Tremors, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure
  • Sweating, confusion, and headache
  • Nightmares and insomnia

More severe symptoms can escalate within the next 2 to 3 days and include:

  • Fever and seizures
  • Tactile hallucinations (feeling itching, burning, or numbness that is not occurring)
  • Extreme levels of confusion and agitation
  • Auditory and visual hallucinations
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fast respirations
  • Low electrolyte levels produce heart arrhythmias and sudden death from heart attack

PAWS and Detoxification

Post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS) occurs after the initial cold turkey, and alcohol withdrawal symptoms initially occur after alcohol use abruptly ends. After the turmoil of alcohol withdrawal subsides, those unaware of PAWS can experience these additional withdrawal difficulties later and relapse.

This scenario can happen without input from a professional detox treatment center, which educates patients about relapse protection and the possibility of PAWS. The lack of professional support can become a significant stumbling block to maintaining sobriety. 

Lack of Support During Detox

The lack of support during the alcohol detox process can be detrimental to the success of the process. Cold turkey and alcohol withdrawal symptoms without medical supervision can be uncomfortable and challenging. Medical personnel familiar with tapering processes can also administer medication to lessen the severity of the withdrawal symptoms.

Assistance from mental health professionals is also beneficial during detox, with a professional treatment center as a supportive measure. The lack of sufficient support during detoxification from alcohol increases the risk of relapse. Medical and mental health professionals add a protective level of experience and knowledge about what to expect and how to address challenging problems.

Professional treatment staff can intervene and teach invaluable coping skills during detox that can be of use during treatment. Support aids in successfully completing detox to move on to the next treatment step. 

The Value of Hands-On Alcohol Detox Treatment

Avoiding intense adverse withdrawal symptoms to reduce the chance of relapse, detox treatment programs understand the dangers of cold turkey. A professional assessment from medical and mental health professionals can map out a detox process for each need.

Medication-assisted treatment (MAT) can prevent withdrawal symptoms from escalating and allows the medical team to manage levels of discomfort. Medically monitored detox programs are the first step in a solid long-term treatment plan for those with an alcohol use disorder. 

Understand the Values of Professional Alcohol Detox Programs in Tennessee

For those considering quitting alcohol cold turkey, professionals with Detox West Tennessee are equipped to expound upon the dangers of cold turkey. Medical and mental health professionals are aware of how to end alcohol use disorders in a safe and effective process.

Lastly, medical detox is the beginning step in undergoing treatment for an alcohol use disorder, and successful completion may prevent relapse.

Contact the admissions office for more information about how to undergo an assessment.