How Hard Is It to Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?
Why Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey Is Hard
Alcohol addiction is a significant issue for over 28 million people in the United States, with binge drinking and excessive drinking typical, especially for those in their early twenties. Addiction to alcohol is characterized by the inability to quit drinking without experiencing withdrawal symptoms or having strong impulses to drink, leading to compulsive alcohol consumption.
It may come as a surprise to many, but alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to try and quit on your own. Even for those who feel they have a mild addiction or have only been having a couple of drinks per day, quitting cold turkey could have unintended consequences.
Suddenly stopping drinking, especially if you have been drinking for a prolonged period, drinking in large amounts, or combining alcohol with other drugs, can have serious health consequences due to changes in the brain’s chemistry caused by alcohol. Some people may experience seizures, delirium tremens, and even death if their symptoms are untreated by medical professionals. Older people, those with a co-occurring mental health conditions, and those in poor physical health are at greater risk.
On top of the physical aspects of addiction, social, psychological, and biological issues also come into play, so an integrated detox and rehabilitation program that addresses mental health and the underlying causes of addiction is the best way to recover from alcohol addiction.
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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
The most common signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are:
- Nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting
- Sweating uncontrollably with clammy skin
- Heart palpitations and high blood pressure
- Strong feelings of anxiety or agitation
- Tremors and shaky hands
- Hostility or irritability
- Muscle weakness
- Appetite loss
- Electrolyte imbalance
Delirium Tremens (the DTs) are a set of withdrawal symptoms that are severe and dangerous and are suffered by about 5% of heavy drinkers during alcohol withdrawal. The symptoms usually begin within 48 to 72 hours after your last drink and include high blood pressure, a racing heart, confusion, agitation, hallucinations, and a high fever. If untreated, the DTs can escalate to violent seizures and death.
Because of the inherent danger and discomfort that comes with detoxing, the unfortunate fact is that people addicted to alcohol may choose to continue drinking rather than seek help. The best course of action is to check in to a medical detox facility in your area, as there will not only be doctors and medical personnel to monitor your progress and keep you safe. You may receive mental health treatments in a dual diagnosis program or join a group therapy session while detoxing for further support.
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Alcohol Withdrawal Timeline
As each person has a unique combination of genetic factors, history of drug and alcohol use, mental health concerns, and social issues, the withdrawal period for each person varies. Typically, the withdrawal will begin quickly after your last drink, between six to 24 hours, and can last for days.
You may first experience milder withdrawal symptoms like insomnia, stomach issues, headache, and tremors, with hallucinations developing between the 12- to 24-hour mark. Seizures may occur between 24 and 48 hours, and from 48 to 72 hours after your last drink, you are most at risk of developing delirium tremens. After the symptoms peak, you will feel a little better every day until you are stable enough to move on into a comprehensive rehabilitation program.
Depending on how slow a tapering-off period your doctor recommends, this timeline may be extended. If you are a heavy drinker, you may require a slower weaning rate to ensure you remain safe.
Tapering Off Alcohol vs. Going Cold Turkey
Because alcohol withdrawal is uncomfortable and can quickly escalate to dangerous levels, many people, especially those binge drinking, drinking for a long time, or drinking heavily, will benefit from a slow, tapered detox in a medically supervised facility. A slow taper will reduce the chance of seizing and developing delirium tremens and reduce the overall discomfort and pain you may experience while providing more time in a safe treatment center with psychological and social support, medications, and physical health care.
You will also receive help with other challenges that come with quitting drinking, like:
- Social pressure to drink
- Managing social functions or situations where there is alcohol present
- Figuring out who you are and what you enjoy doing with your time without alcohol present
What to do if relapse occurs or if you feel like you may relapse
On the other hand, quitting cold turkey exposes you to all the risks that alcohol withdrawal causes, while at the same time may increase your risk of relapsing, as you may not feel like you can manage the cravings and discomfort. People who quit cold turkey also risk alcohol poisoning as alcohol tolerance will be much lower than before your detox period.
Light drinkers may be able to stop drinking at home with the help of a doctor to keep track of their symptoms and any issues that may come up. Some methods to help cut back and taper off alcohol use include:
Incremental changes that are easy to stick to
- Mix lighter drinks with less alcohol in them, or substitute the occasional non-alcoholic drink
- Avoid common recreational drinking environments like pubs, sporting events, and parties
- Spend time with supportive friends and family members, avoiding those who will make your sobriety more difficult
- Avoid bars and stores that sell alcohol, and avoid visiting people who will serve you alcohol
- Establish healthy habits like sleeping well and eating healthy food
- Remove all alcohol from your home, and if you live with people who drink, arrange a stay in a sober living home
Alcohol Detox Treatment
Detoxing is the first step to recovery, but it is not enough. After spending time in a safe medically assisted treatment (MAT) detox program, moving directly into an alcohol rehab program is always recommended. These can be evidence-based inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab programs and may include holistic treatments, depending on your unique needs, but will all likely involve treatments and therapies like:
- Behavioral therapies (cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, etc.)
- Mental health care
- Medical treatments and care
- Individual and group therapy
- Help establish new habits and avoid relapse
- 12-step groups like Alcoholics Anonymous
- Assistance in finding the root of your addiction
- Aftercare programs
Benefits of Going to a Medical Detox
There are many benefits of going to a medical detox for alcohol addiction treatment, including:
- Detoxing in a 100% sober and safe environment away from triggers and temptations that may lure you back to drinking
- Having 24-hour medical oversight, with nursing staff on duty to ensure you are safe and feeling well as your body recalibrates itself
- Having the option of medications that will help you avoid the worst aspects of alcohol detox, keeping you safe, comfortable, and well-rested so you can focus on healing
- Medical detox programs will also provide therapy, counseling, and dual diagnosis treatments to help you address any trauma, mental illness, and emotional issues that may be troubling you and contributing to your addiction
- Safely quitting drinking will improve your physical health and stop further damage from occurring. You will have improved sleep, reduced cancer and other health risks, and more energy.
- You will receive help with relapse prevention and will be provided with opportunities to join inpatient or outpatient rehab programs to help you move forward in life without alcohol
Overcome Alcohol Addiction at Muse Treatment Center
At Muse Treatment Center, we not only offer an entirely safe and integrated medical detox program, but we also provide the full spectrum of care needed after detoxing. This process will help get mental health issues under control, understand the basis of your unique addiction issues, and gain the necessary tools to move forward in life without drinking.
When you first come to our facility, we will need to perform a full screening, including medical and psychological evaluations, so we can help you in all aspects of your treatment. This will help us customize your program to best suit your needs as a patient. You will then move into the detox facility for stabilization. Once you have completed your detox, we will facilitate your move into an inpatient rehab or an outpatient rehab program to provide you with the further treatment you need.
Whether you live at home and commute for treatment, we will help you return to your life, job, and family as you receive all the support and care you need. We also provide aftercare programs, ensuring you have connections to all medical and psychological care you need, including medication refills, peer support, and therapy, for as long as you need it.
With Muse Treatment Center, you can count on the caring, non-judgmental staff to be there for you from day one, helping you detox, rehabilitate, and return to your life as the sober person you want to be. Our “whole patient” approach to healing will ensure you feel safe and listened to every step of the way as you gain a new perspective on life.
Call us today at (800) 426-1818 to find out more about our inpatient alcohol rehab, our outpatient rehab programs, our medical detox treatments, or if you have any questions about insurance verification, specific treatment plans, or anything else.