You’ve heard the term and may even know someone who has successfully quit an addiction like drugs or alcohol “Cold Turkey”. Can the strategy of simply stopping the behavior all at once be done? Is it possible to quit forever by utilizing this strategy? Of course, some people have been able to do it. However, the numbers of people who successfully quit for the long term are minimal, with less than 5% of those who try actually being able to kick the habit without assistance through therapy or medical treatment. If you are going to categorize methods of quitting or eliminating a drug or alcohol addiction, quitting cold turkey has the highest failure rate.
Although it is appealing to just quit cold turkey and many people try it, thinking that they can handle it, it is in fact extremely difficult and dangerous to try it on your own. Many people feel that they can be successful in separating themselves from the drug environment and start over. However, separation does not stop the urges and behavior, it only changes the location.
What is an addiction and how does addiction affect your body? Addiction, defined as preoccupation, intoxication, and withdrawal, is a chronic, relapsing disorder associated typically with drugs and alcohol. As the cycle progresses for most people from user to an abuser to an addict, the motivation also changes, modifying the brain circuitry according to a study by Koob and Volkow in 2010. The pathological changes that occur in the brain from the constant, repetitive use of certain drugs and alcohol can in no way be reversed simply because a person chooses to remove themselves from the environment.
Because of the neurological and pathological changes associated with addiction, quitting cold turkey can have harmful negative effects on the body and possibly bring on life-threatening conditions. Of course, the drugs and alcohol themselves are harmful and place serious restraints on the body. But the addict’s body has become comfortable with the new state of euphoria it experiences. The removal of these addictive substances can be more destructive if not done in a medical or therapeutic environment where the patient is carefully monitored as the body rebels and resists.
There are many risks associated with going cold turkey. Let’s look at several of these risks and how they can be mitigated in a controlled environment.
Since your body has now become dependent upon the drug or alcohol, it will very quickly lose its tolerance to the drug that it was addicted to. Although this may seem like an advantage, it is in fact, extremely dangerous for someone who may try quitting on their own yet who is still very susceptible to the urges and draw of the drug. Because of the new low tolerance, if the person can no longer resist on his or her own and relapses, the drug has the possibility of causing heart failure, seizures, and possible death. Unfortunately, many people step back into the world of drugs believing that they can still ingest the same amount of the substance as before they attempted to quit cold turkey. They have a misconception that their bodies can still tolerate the same amount and unfortunately, many overdose.
When a person with a drug or alcohol addiction attempts to go cold turkey and simply quit, the body, now dependent upon the substance will go through withdrawals as it tries to purge the physical craving. Physical symptoms of withdrawal are not to be taken lightly or considered to be irrelevant. Substance abuse, in fact, alters many systems of the body which can no longer function properly without the presence of the drug or alcohol. As the body tries to break free of the dependency, the physical symptoms begin as early as 24 hours after you stop using and have a major impact on the entire body. Depending on the drug or alcohol being used, various symptoms may include:
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle aches and pains
Although these may seem tolerable to some, these are just the beginning of the detoxification process. The process continues on for 72 hours or so and seems to significantly decrease after one week. However, until this time, they gradually become more intense, severe and traumatic including:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Racing heartbeat
- Abdominal cramping and diarrhea
- Dilated pupils and blurry vision
- Erratic mood swings
Some people going through withdrawal symptoms may even experience life-threatening conditions such as seizures or heart attack. None of these symptoms or conditions are pleasant nor should they be handled alone. Many people believe that they are strong enough or resilient enough to handle the withdrawal symptoms on their own. Would you really want to be seeing double, hallucinating, vomiting and achy while alone in your home? If you are sick with the flu, don’t you want the support and care of a loved one or even medical professional? Alcohol withdrawal can get worse before it gets better.
Once you have decided that you are going to change your behavior, why not seek the help of a qualified clinician or medical professional? Rather than managing the symptoms of withdrawal on your own, struggling with not only the symptoms, but the emotional impact as well, consider how you can best receive the support that you need at a therapeutic treatment center. Clinicians and doctors can walk you through each of the withdrawal symptoms, providing step by step guidance and support, and may even prescribe medication to ease the pain, suffering and mental agony imposed by the symptoms.
So, why do so many people think that they can quit cold turkey? Many addicts do not believe that they, in fact, have an addiction problem and therefore, can quit at any time, not expecting the difficulties that they will experience once the withdrawal sets in. However, it has been proven that quitting cold turkey is a highly ineffective method of approaching bad habits that for some, may have taken years to develop.
If cold turkey quitting has proven to be so ineffective and it has the highest failure rate, why do so many people continue to believe that THEY can be the one to do it? What makes the addict believe that he or she has not only the desire but most importantly, the will power to overcome the hold that the drugs have on a person and the involuntary reactions that occur with stopping? Do they have some type of superpower? An ability that only they have and no other person in history has had to set aside the drugs and alcohol forever? Not likely.
So, why doesn’t it work? Why isn’t cold turkey quitting in fact effective? It seems appropriate that if a person has the desire and willpower to quit, they should take control of their lives and their bodies and simply quit. Unfortunately, the body and the drugs they’ve been taking have other plans.
As mentioned earlier, drugs and alcohol have neurological and pathological effects on a person’s body and brain. The impact is different for each person but although they may have had the willpower at one time in their life, the drugs have altered the body’s systems so drastically that most people no longer possess the same characteristics or qualities that they once had. Their willpower and motivations may be completely different, although in their own minds, still the same. Although a person may set out with good intentions and may be able to avoid the drug or alcohol, thereby quitting the habit, they are very susceptible to relapse without proper regimen and routines in place. When the quitting occurs within a controlled environment such as at a treatment or therapeutic center, an addict can be directed and guided towards building good habits, with established coping techniques to help them when temptations arise.
When trying to go cold turkey, many people do rely on close friends or family to “help” them steer clear of the environment or to protect them from themselves. What a person who is addicted does not realize is that the body’s dependency becomes so strong and its systems have changed so drastically, it will do anything to get a “fix”. This may even mean bringing harm to themselves or others simply to get it. As the detoxification process starts and progresses, the need becomes too strong for many and they abandon the detox, putting themselves at risk of serious complications as mentioned because of intolerance. If a person is not detoxing in a treatment facility, those closest to the person may have feelings of guilt, compassion or empathy and in an attempt to assuage their own feelings, they may give in to the detoxing addict, providing them with the drug or alcohol that has caused the problem in the first place. The results can be disastrous. In a treatment center, an addict has no choice to abandon the detox process since they have no access to any type of harmful substances.
Many addicts believe that by going through the terrifying and traumatic withdrawal process, they will be motivated to never touch the substance again. Unfortunately, the failure rate among those who believe this to be true is far higher than others. Just like a woman’s ability to forget the actual pain of giving birth, an addict who has not properly received treatment for their condition also has the tendency to forget the pain and suffering they experienced during withdrawal, relapsing back into their old habits.
Although quitting cold turkey may be effective for a very small percentage of addicts, those who can do it alone, for the majority of users, they need the support, routines, and plan which are prevalent in a controlled environment within a therapeutic treatment center. Not only do patients receive the necessary support and medication to help them appropriately detox, but through counseling and support services, patients also receive the life-changing tools and skills needed to help them manage temptations, setbacks, and the emotions that emerge from their new lifestyle. In many cases, there is an underlying reason for a person to have begun taking drugs or alcohol in the first place. Doctors and other treatment staff are qualified to not only transition patients through detox, provide them with counseling through the difficult process, but also to help them to address the issues that may have caused them to succumb in the first place. Addiction patients need to be reassured that they can, in fact, live their life without self-medicating and relying on drugs or alcohol to whisk away their problems.
Without the supervision and support of trained professionals, an addict puts himself or herself in serious risk of doing additional harm to themselves. They can and will receive the medical attention, support and guidance to help them through this difficult journey at The Hills so that they can kick start their life again, leaving behind the world of drugs and alcohol for a new, clean and sober lifestyle. Contact The Hills today in order to learn how our facility can help you or someone you love break free from addiction in a safe manner.