From an old American idiom referring to a straightforward, no-frills manner of speaking, ‘cold turkey’ has come to mean taking a similarly direct approach to addiction: simply stopping one’s use of drugs, alcohol, or any other addictive substance. This method can have lasting benefits but can also come with dangerous side effects and increased hazards of withdrawal and relapse.
The alternative approach is to gradually cut down on usage and wean oneself off an addictive substance over time. Each method comes with pros and cons. Ultimately, however you choose to handle your recovery, getting professional help can make a world of difference in successfully getting sober and staying sober.
Understand the Risks
Going cold turkey comes with risks. Even before considering the daily challenge of resisting the urges of addiction, you’ll have to prepare for withdrawal symptoms and the side effects of detox. Depending on the substance, withdrawal symptoms can include tremors, nausea, depression, anxiety, hallucinations, fatigue, and paranoia.
It is often unadvisable to quit cold turkey if the substance in question is alcohol, a benzodiazepine, or an opiate. Detox from these substances typically includes severe withdrawal symptoms that can even cause irreparable mental and physical harm to a person seeking to break their dependence. Quitting alcohol cold turkey can cause the body to go through delirium tremens, or ‘shaking frenzy.’ Also known as the “DT’s”, this condition includes a collection of severe withdrawal symptoms in alcohol users, including seizures, heart palpitations, and hallucinations. These symptoms can kill you if you’re not in an environment prepared to help you manage them properly.
Be Prepared in Case of Relapse
Another risk of going cold turkey is the increased risk of relapse. Upon stopping your use of a substance, your body’s tolerance for it will quickly drop. If you do end up relapsing, your lowered tolerance means you’re at a much greater risk of overdose by taking the same amount you’ve taken in the past.
Gradually cutting down your usage doesn’t invite quite as much risk of overdose. However, it does still come with chances of relapse. In this case, relapse means returning to unmeasured substance usage, without regard for your recovery plan. Relapsing even one can bring feelings of shame, guilt, and frustration. It may also mean starting the entire weaning-off process from the beginning. No matter which approach you take, it’s best to be prepared with a plan in case of relapse so that if it does occur, you won’t be stranded in dismay with no clear path forward.
The Gradual Approach
Slowly tapering down can be a safer tactic if the substance is highly addictive and dangerous in higher doses, like alcohol or opiates. As mentioned above, weaning yourself off can lower your risk of dramatic withdrawal symptoms, medical complications, and accidental overdose in the event of a relapse.
Simultaneously, counting on your own resolve to correctly manage your gradual decrease in substance use is a tricky business. One clear danger of the incremental approach is that you’re combating your ingrained desire to increase your dosage each time you use. It’s often extremely challenging to stick to a planned taper. In some cases, it may even be downright impossible.
Quitting Under Medical Supervision
It’s been established that people who quit using an addictive substance cold turkey are more successful if they do so in a supportive environment. Most addicted people need help to get them through the complicated process of withdrawal and restabilization. Going cold turkey at home leaves you pitted against the physical and mental agonies of withdrawal without medical assistance. As such, this method has a much higher chance of short-term relapse, along with health complications arising from withdrawal symptoms. Going cold turkey in a recovery center or treatment facility means you’re armed with professionals who can monitor your progress. These experts can also administer tremendously helpful medication as things get rough and offer you the emotional support and encouragement to make it through the acute stages of withdrawal.
Quitting gradually is also much more comfortable with professional guidance. Consulting with a recovery team or treatment specialist can help you form a plan for breaking out of addiction on a personalized schedule. It takes the pressure off you to hold yourself accountable, opening up your disorder to the input and support of people whose job is to lift you up and help you through. Recovery and treatment centers also ease your gradual recovery with effective medication, mindfulness practices, therapy, medical attention, and 24/7 availability if you hit any roadblocks.
Whether you plan to approach your recovery cold turkey or gradually, your chances at getting through withdrawal and staying sober long-term are dramatically improved by getting professional help. At Valiant Living in Denver, Colorado, we provide an immersive, safe environment designed to help you through every part of your treatment, from initial withdrawal to long-term recovery planning. We specialize in transitioning people out of addiction, using an approach that combines physical, mental, and emotional tactics to address your substance abuse disorder at the root. If you’re planning your recovery and are considering going cold turkey or taking it gradually, get in touch with Valiant Living to discuss your options. We can help identify the best path forward for your treatment, connect you with specialists, and support you every step of the way. Your recovery is your future – you don’t have to go it alone. Call us at (303) 952-5035 to learn more.