What Does it Mean to Detox Cold Turkey and Why is it a Bad Idea?


what it means to detox cold turkey and why it is a bad idea

Putting drug and alcohol addiction behind you takes a lot of time, dedication, and support. Addiction is a serious and complex condition that involves every aspect of a person’s life. Comprehensive addiction treatment, beginning with a holistic detox program, can give people the support and skills they need to overcome addiction’s physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects. Support and care can give them a strong foundation and make it possible to build a healthy, sober life.

But addiction recovery takes time and patience. Many people want to find a quick fix to eliminate their addiction in less time than going to rehab. One of the ways people attempt to rid themselves of addiction without getting treatment is with a cold turkey detox.

People who quit drugs cold turkey are likely to fail and may face severe health complications. It’s essential to understand the risks associated with cold turkey detox and what options you have to help you overcome your addiction so that you can make the best choices about your care.

What Does it Mean to Detox Cold Turkey?

Detoxification is your body’s natural process of ridding itself of toxins, including drugs and alcohol. When you use drugs or alcohol heavily or frequently, your body adjusts to the presence of these substances and can eventually become dependent on them.

During detox, your body works to eliminate substances and return to its natural state of functioning. While detoxification is a natural process, drug and alcohol detox can cause uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms as your body adjusts to the absence of drugs or alcohol.

A cold turkey detox means quitting drugs abruptly instead of reducing your use gradually or with the help of medications. Many people attempt to detox cold turkey because they believe it is a quick way to get rid of an addiction.

A cold turkey detox can result in quick, severe emotional and physical withdrawal symptoms, including the chills and goosebumps that give the method its name. These symptoms can be severely uncomfortable and, in rare cases, become life-threatening. Withdrawal is often so painful that many people relapse–begin using drugs and alcohol again after a period of sobriety–before their body has a chance to detox completely.

What Happens to You When You Detox Cold Turkey?

Quitting drugs and alcohol is challenging no matter how you do it. But what happens when you detox cold turkey?

First, many people begin to experience uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms within a few hours or days of their last dose of a drug. Your experience in withdrawal will depend on many things, including the substance you used, the amount and frequency you took it, your mental and physical health, gender, and other factors. Generally, though, withdrawal is quick and intense. Many people experience significant emotional and physical discomfort that disrupts their lives, including:

  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Stomach cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Insomnia
  • Nightmares
  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Shaking

Intense cravings are common and can last for many days, weeks, or longer. Without treatment and support, it is tough to get through withdrawal and completely detox from drugs and alcohol.

Is it Dangerous to Quit Drugs Cold Turkey?

Detoxing alone and cold turkey detox are associated with worse outcomes and the potential for severe, sometimes life-threatening complications. Here are some of the most substantial risks of cold turkey detox.


Once your body develops a dependence on drugs or alcohol, it can be incredibly challenging to stop using them. And when you do stop, withdrawal symptoms, including fever, nausea, insomnia, tremors, and cravings, can make people so miserable that they start using drugs again to get relief.

Mental health symptoms

Withdrawal can be hard on your mental health. Many people experience new or worsening mental health symptoms during detox, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

These symptoms can become severe, and some people in withdrawal develop suicidal thoughts or behaviors.

Dangerous withdrawal symptoms

Drug and alcohol withdrawal can be more than just uncomfortable–it can also become a life-threatening medical event. Some withdrawal symptoms require immediate medical intervention. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated body temperature
  • Excessive nausea and vomiting
  • Stroke
  • Seizures
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion

A small percentage of people in withdrawal can develop a severe medical condition called Delirium Tremens (DTs). People with DTs may experience fever, extreme confusion, rapid heart rate, and seizures. This condition can cause death if not treated in time.


Relapses are common in addiction recovery. The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) reports that between 40% and 60% of people with substance abuse will experience at least one relapse during recovery.

Because of their reduced tolerance to drugs and alcohol, people in early recovery are more vulnerable to overdose. Cold turkey detox increases the risk of relapse, making it more likely that someone will die because of an overdose.

What Types of Detox are More Effective Than Cold Turkey Detox?

Medically-supported detox programs are designed to give people the support, care, and treatment they need to have a safe withdrawal period and a complete detox. During detox, medical and support professionals treat people’s withdrawal symptoms, allowing them to stay safe and comfortable throughout the process. Treatments include:

  • Medications to alleviate emotional and physical discomfort
  • Emotional support, including individual therapy
  • Distance from triggers
  • Holistic therapies for comfort, including massage, nutrition support, and exercise when appropriate

The support of a supervised detox program gives you the best chance of having a safe, complete detox to leave your addiction in the past.

Find Help Now

You do not have to carry your addiction alone. Our qualified team of admissions coordinators can help you choose the right New Jersey drug and alcohol detox center for you. Reach out to the caring Moving Mountains Recovery admissions specialists to learn more about starting one of our supportive, holistic treatment programs.

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