Should You Quit an Addiction Cold Turkey?

It’s common for people to want to dive right in and let it all go immediately. Deciding to change your life around and quit whatever substances you find yourself addicted to is an accomplishment. The obvious next step is to remove whatever harmful substances are in your life, but how?

What Does It Mean to Quit Cold Turkey?

Imagine yourself in the car, and you’re coming to a stop sign, so you gently press on the brakes and keep going. Alternatively, if you’re about to rear-end someone, you slam onto the brakes and try to stop as soon as possible. Quitting cold turkey is much the same. Instead of gradually weaning yourself off the substance, you remove it from your life immediately. This strategy can be helpful in some instances, and in other cases, it can be dangerous, depending on the substance.

An individual who quits cold turkey is likely to experience some symptoms of withdrawal, and those include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Having issues sleeping
  • Cravings
  • Feeling down or sad
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety
  • Feeling agitated or irritable
  • Shaking

These symptoms can vary, but if someone is quitting smoking and nicotine, the lethal side effects of quitting are highly unlikely to occur. Alternatively, quitting drugs like heroin cold turkey can be dangerous.

Why Choose This Strategy?

It comes down to personal choice, and some people may feel that this strategy will be easier than gradually removing the substance gradually or on a day-by-day basis. Having it out of sight means it’s out of their mind, and they can move on. Some people want to stop the damage they are causing themselves, so they let it go. Unfortunately, sometimes this strategy, like any other, can still lead to relapse.

Benefits of Quitting Cold Turkey

Depending on the support a person receives, quitting cold turkey could be beneficial. There is data that shows that those who had support could quit smoking cold turkey and remain abstinent, whereas those who didn’t have support didn’t achieve such high levels of abstinence.

By quitting cold turkey, the body can commence its self-healing process. Of course, there are some circumstances where people will have withdrawal symptoms, but that’s part of the body’s healing.

However, quitting abruptly can be fatal if someone has a strong dependence on heroin, methamphetamine, or severe alcohol dependence.

Risks of Going Cold Turkey

Depending on which substance one decides to remove from their life, there may be risks that must be considered. The individual must understand these risks, as some can be life-threatening.

Quitting Smoking Cold Turkey

The worst thing about quitting smoking cold turkey is nicotine withdrawal. If one decides to give up smoking, they have a better chance of sustaining abstinence if they have a strong support system. Choosing who you spend your time with when quitting smoking cold turkey is an important variable to keep in mind. Hanging around others who smoke may introduce sudden cravings.

Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

If you or someone you know has severe alcohol dependency, then it’s best to understand how dangerous it can be to quit alcohol cold turkey.

The immediate cessation of alcohol can lead to an extreme form of alcohol withdrawal, otherwise known as delirium tremens. Delirium tremens can occur within 48 hours and last up to 5 days. The individual can experience altered mental status, severe confusion, and sympathetic overdrive, which leads to changes in how the brain regulates blood circulation and breathing. Although the symptoms don’t suddenly appear, but rather progress from earlier withdrawal symptoms. The symptoms may change throughout the day. They include:

  • Agitation, aggression, or irritability
  • Confusion
  • Severe autonomic hyperactivity such as trembling, tachycardia, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Visual, tactile, or auditory hallucinations
  • Tremors or seizures
  • Issues sleeping
  • High blood pressure and rapid heartbeat
  • Excessive sweating and dehydration

Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey

Although severe alcohol dependence and drug dependency are classified as different addictions, they have similar neuronal patterns within the nervous system. Those who possess a deep addiction to drugs (such as heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine) who quit cold turkey also risk the dangers of those who quit alcohol cold turkey. Symptoms can include

  • Seizures
  • Dehydration
  • Heart issues

Tips For Abstinence

It won’t be easy, but it is possible. We’ve put together some ideas to help you quit smoking, alcohol, and drugs.

Tips for Quitting Smoking

Something that has helped lots of people stop smoking is Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT). This technique allows the individual to use products such as nicotine gum, patches and sprays that provide a small dose of nicotine to prevent withdrawal symptoms.

If someone wishes to stop smoking without the aid of NRT, it would be best to seek the help of tobacco support groups, which can be easily accessible with the help of social media.

Here are some ideas that have had progress with others:

  • Acupuncture
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy

Tips for Quitting Alcohol

Due to the potential risks of the cessation of alcohol consumption, it is best to seek medical advice from your doctor before making any rash decisions. Some other things to consider when quitting include the following:

  • Seeking group therapy or support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Exploring mental health issues with a trained professional
  • Detoxification medications
  • Medications for craving

Tips for Quitting Drugs

Like quitting alcohol, it is best to review options with your medical provider when deciding to eliminate drugs from your life.

It’s also best to consider these options to remain abstinence:

  • Counselling with trained professional
  • Rehabilitation treatment
  • Specific medications

Usually, when people decide to quit any substance cold turkey, they want to improve their lives. In certain situations, quitting cold turkey may do the opposite. It’s best to truly understand what your body needs to begin its path back to balance and health. If you have questions about quitting cold turkey, do not hesitate to email us at

Written By Bibin K. Ittiavira

Clinical Therapist


Simcoe Addiction and Mental Health