Going off Alcohol Cold Turkey

Withdrawal from alcohol is tricky and best managed under medical supervision. Safe detox should focus on only one thing: medically supervised detox in a licensed center. Learn more about why going off alcohol cold turkey can be dangerous and is not advised.

Second Thoughts

Alcohol is a central nervous system depressant which is rapidly absorbed from the stomach and small intestine into the bloodstream. Alcohol can consume a person’s life and takes over until it is purged from the system. While this may seem harmless, the practice is not effective and is, in fact, a bad idea which may be quite dangerous or even fatal depending on a person’s level of dependence or addiction. A ‘cold turkey’ method refers to complete cessation of drinking alcohol. This may be effective for some people and rewards the problem drinker by quickening the path to recovery. Detox this way can be extremely difficult and should be accompanied by support group meetings and visits to a doctor to avoid relapse (usually to avoid symptoms of withdrawal).

What Happens

Cold turkey removal of alcohol from the system can be shocking to the mind and body. It may trigger alcohol withdrawal syndrome which comes with severe symptoms. Withdrawal occurs when a person becomes dependent on a substance like alcohol. During withdrawal, the body manifests symptoms when a substance is lowered in dosage is not available anymore. Symptoms may show up after a period of continued use once it is interrupted. Acute symptoms of withdrawal get worse for a few days to a few weeks.


Detox takes place in two parts. The first part happens over a period of a few days. The initial period is most dangerous and may even be fatal. The second, longer phase, occurs over months as the brain regulates and resumes normal functioning. Lingering symptoms during the second phase are usually not life-threatening.


People who are addicted to alcohol often experience detox first as the body has become accustomed to the presence of alcohol. Symptoms when a person quits cold turkey can include the following withdrawal symptoms:

  • Anxiety
  • Increased heart rate
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Shakiness
  • Sweating
  • Auditory hallucinations
  • Confusion and agitation
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Tactile or visual hallucinations

Quitting Alcohol

Rather than seeking to quit cold turkey, a person can seek medication or processes to help during detox. Doctors may recommend the tier method of detox which gradually tapers a person off alcohol and is considered more feasible than quitting cold turkey. Medications such as benzodiazepines, acamprosate and naltrexone can help reduce or eliminate cravings, ease anxiety or help transition away from cessation abruptly. Seeking help provides a better avenue away from addiction towards recovery, supportive aftercare and eventually a better outlook on life which can prevent relapse in the future.

The Villa offers support for individuals trying to quit drinking. If you are struggling with addiction to alcohol and want to quit, call us. Let us help set you up for success by providing information and resources on how to quit drinking with a support system in place.