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Can an Alcoholic Quit Cold Turkey?

Jun 29, 2023 | Addiction, Alcohol, Withdrawal

Alcohol is an incredibly addictive substance that negatively impacts a large number of people in America. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, nearly 17 million Americans suffer from alcoholism or alcohol abuse. Although it is possible for an alcoholic to quit drinking on their own, whether or not it’s the best decision for them to do so depends on a variety of factors. Before we delve into this topic further, we need to understand what alcoholism is, how it affects the brain and why some people are able to quit cold turkey while others need professional help quitting alcohol.

The Alcoholic Brain

Alcoholism is a condition in which you regularly consume more alcohol than your body can handle. In severe cases of alcoholism, the use of alcohol interferes with your ability to meet daily responsibilities at home and work. Some alcoholics end up losing their jobs, homes, and families

Alcoholics have a different brain chemistry, structure, and function than non-alcoholics. In fact, alcohol addiction changes the structure of the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC), which is responsible for long-term planning and executive decision-making. This means that alcoholics can’t always control their impulses or think before they act when drinking and this can ultimately have tragic consequences. 

When an alcoholic stops drinking, their body needs time to recover from years of abuse. Because of this, it’s not unusual for them to experience withdrawal symptoms during this period, as well as intense cravings for alcohol.

It is possible to quit drinking on your own, however, it’s not as simple as just quitting on any given day. The process should begin with working with a support group or individual counselor who can help you find the tools necessary for success in recovery. And if you have a serious dependency on alcohol and/or other drugs, it is best to seek professional help from a licensed therapist or doctor that specializes in addiction treatment.

Symptoms Of Quitting Alcohol

If you have been drinking heavily and suddenly stop, you may experience withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms can be dangerous and even fatal. The most common alcohol withdrawal symptoms include anxiety, fear, sweating, increased heart rate, nausea, and vomiting, or hallucinations. The mental symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are some of the most difficult to manage. This can include anxiety, depression, insomnia, confusion, irritability, obsessive thoughts, or suicidal ideation.

Quitting drinking after periods of heavy consumption is challenging but crucial for longevity. Drinking in excess for long periods of time can lead to many life-threatening issues like cancer or cirrhosis. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver has sustained extensive damage from alcohol abuse. Those that are diagnosed with this disease suffer from fatigue, jaundice, abdominal swelling, and confusion. If left untreated, cirrhosis can result in death. Similarly, alcohol consumption has been linked to multiple types of cancer which can be fatal as well. The most prevalent cancers tied to drinking alcohol are breast cancer and colon cancer.

The Dangers Of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol withdrawal is a condition that can occur when someone who has been drinking heavily stops suddenly, or if they have a medical condition that makes it hard for them to metabolize alcohol. This withdrawal can be life-threatening for many. 

If you’re dependent on alcohol and decide to quit, you may experience a variety of symptoms that are unpleasant and uncomfortable. When someone experiences alcohol withdrawal, they may experience anxiety, fear, trembling, sweating, increased heart rate, and blood pressure, often accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Depending on the level of alcohol dependency, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can be mild, severe, or potentially fatal. 

Less severe withdrawal symptoms can be treated with medication, so it’s important to seek professional help and work closely with your doctor or therapist during this time. In serious cases, withdrawing from alcohol can lead to delirium tremens, which is a life-threatening complication. The withdrawal symptoms associated with DTs include severe confusion, hallucinations, tremors, and seizures. 

How Long Does Withdrawing Last?

There is no set amount of time that alcohol withdrawal lasts. The symptoms can last from a few days to weeks. The severity of the withdrawal symptoms and how long they last depends on how much you drink, how fast you stop drinking, as well as other factors such as your age and gender. As with other drugs, the amount of time you spend detoxing will depend on your body’s reaction to alcohol withdrawal and the amount of time spent abusing it before stopping. Fortunately, there are ways to manage these uncomfortable issues until they subside.

For most people, mental symptoms are more likely than physical ones to cause relapse or discourage them from seeking help in the first place. It’s important that you understand that these feelings will pass eventually and that they can be managed with support from your loved ones and healthcare providers.

How To Safely Quit Alcohol​

The steps to quitting drinking should be provided by a medical professional in order to ensure the process is done safely. The first step in the process is going to be detoxification, as the body rids itself of any remaining alcohol in its system. The environment in which the detox occurs needs to be controlled, with minimal stimulation. Anti-anxiety drugs may be provided at this time as the process can cause dysregulation of the central nervous system. Proper hydration and electrolyte supplementation are also vital as the detox ensues. In many cases, due to the severity of the alcohol abuse, anti-seizure medication may be necessary as well.

In less severe scenarios, detox can be done on an outpatient basis. Even so, allowing medical supervision is important to maintain a safe environment and ensure that help is available in the event it is needed.

It is important to remember that detoxing from alcohol is only one component of recovery from addiction. Getting treatment, joining a support group such as AA, and working with a therapist is often necessary part of the recovery process. Without treatment, many people who detox from alcohol often return to drinking and the destructive behaviors that go with it.

Quitting alcohol cold turkey is inadvisable in most scenarios, even for those that do not consider themselves an alcoholic. For anyone that has reached the point of needing to quit, there needs to be a conversation with a medical professional or licensed therapist in order to establish the best protocol. Alcoholism has the ability to cause life-threatening diseases, illnesses, and symptoms, most of which can be prevented by quitting. 

Although detoxing from alcohol is a challenging process, doing so with the help of trained professionals can allow the alcoholic to return to a high-functioning, fulfilling life in the future. By following the appropriate steps, alcoholics can safely remove the remainder of alcohol from their bodies and avoid any potentially fatal symptoms that might occur should they attempt the detox by themselves.

New Dimensions Can Help!

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or drug addiction, New Dimensions can help.  We have specialized programs for adolescents and adults who are struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues.  To learn more about our treatment programs, contact us at 800-685-9796 or visit our website at  New Dimensions also can help you set up an Intervention if you are trying to get someone you care about into treatment.


Keywords: Alcoholism; quitting drinking; cold turkey; getting sober