Can You Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

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Alcohol use disorder continues to impact more individuals every year. In 2019, approximately 14.1 million individuals met the diagnostic criteria and were diagnosed with alcohol use disorder. (1) Two years later in 2021, the number of individuals diagnosed with alcohol use disorder increased to approximately 29.5 million individuals. (2) According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 219.2 million individuals have engaged in alcohol use during some point of their lives. (3) Regular or daily alcohol use can lead to unwanted mental and physical effects.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer comprehensive and evidence-based treatment programs for those experiencing addiction to alcohol or other substances. Utilizing effective  treatment options, our therapeutic interventions can provide you, or a loved one, with psychoeducation and the coping techniques needed in order to reach and maintain sobriety. Contact us today to begin your individualized treatment plan and start your road to recovery.

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Signs & Symptoms Associated With Alcohol Use Disorder?

Being able to identify the signs of alcohol use disorder can help determine if you or someone you love are experiencing it.

Signs and symptoms associated with alcohol use disorder include:

  • Experiencing intense psychological cravings.
  • Continuing to engage in alcohol use despite experiencing negative consequences.
  • Experiencing poor work or school performance.
  • Neglecting occupational, relational, personal or other important obligations.
  • Socially isolating oneself from friends and family.
  • Experiencing financial instability or issues related to alcohol use.
  • Engaging in risky and dangerous behavior, such as driving while under the influence of alcohol.
  • Experiencing mood swings.
  • Experiencing blackouts, or not remembering events that occurred while one was intoxicated.
  • Experiencing feelings of guilt or shame associated with alcohol use.
  • Drinking larger amounts of alcohol than intended.
  • Developing tolerance, or the need to consume larger quantities of alcohol in order to reach the desired effect.
  • Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when alcohol use is cut back or suddenly stopped.

Those who engage in chronic alcohol use may choose to stop their drinking in order to alleviate the adverse effects associated with it. This begs the question, can you quit alcohol cold turkey? Stopping alcohol use suddenly can be dangerous.

What Does It Mean to Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Quitting alcohol cold turkey refers to an individual experiencing alcohol addiction suddenly stops their alcohol use. How often, how long, and how much an individual engaged in alcohol use all have an impact how their body responds to suddenly quitting. (4)

Timeline of Alcohol Withdrawal & What to Expect After Quitting

The exact timeline of alcohol withdrawal differs for each individual, though generally, symptoms may begin 6 to 24 hours following an individual’s last drink. Alcohol withdrawal symptoms can last for a total of several days. (5)

A typical alcohol withdrawal timeline: (6)

  • Hours 6 to 12 – Mild withdrawal symptoms begin. These symptoms may include tremors, insomnia, anxiety, headache, stomachache, severe sweating, loss of appetite, and irregular heartbeats.
  • Hours 12 to 24 – Hallucinations may occur during this time of the withdrawal process.
  • Hours 24 to 48 – A high risk of seizures developing can occur during this time of the withdrawal process.
  • Hours 48 to 72 – The risk of developing alcohol withdrawal delirium continues to increase during these hours of the withdrawal process. Individuals may experience symptoms, such as hallucinations, psychomotor agitation, disorientation, elevated heart rate, fever, high blood pressure, and sweating.

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What Are the Potential Risks of Quitting Prolonged Alcohol Use Abruptly?

There are various risks associated with abruptly quitting prolonged alcohol use. Research has found that approximately half of individuals, diagnosed with alcohol use disorder who abruptly stop their alcohol use, experience alcohol withdrawal symptoms. (7)

Withdrawal Symptoms & Complications

Signs and symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Sweating
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • High blood pressure
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Shakes and tremors
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Hallucinations
  • Suicidal ideation

If withdrawal symptoms are not treated properly, or poorly managed, symptoms can progress and individuals can experience violent seizures, delirium tremens, and death. (8) Delirium tremens have a mortality rate of 5 to 10 percent. (9) Additionally, withdrawal symptoms may be more severe in those who are older in age, have experienced previous seizures related to withdrawal, or those who have mental or physical health conditions. (10)

Psychological & Mental Effects of Quitting Cold Turkey

In addition to physical symptoms, quitting alcohol use cold turkey can cause unwanted psychological and mental effects.

Psychological effects associated with quitting alcohol use cold turkey include: (11)

Managing Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms After Quitting Drinking

The best way to manage alcohol withdrawal symptoms is to attend a treatment program which offers medical detoxification. Detoxification refers to the process of substances being removed from the body. At Guardian Recovery, we offer alcohol specific detox where an individual can be closely monitored by a qualified healthcare professional to help keep them safe throughout this uncomfortable process. Additionally, we provide medication assisted treatment to help mitigate and minimize withdrawal symptoms.

Strategies for Overcoming the Urges & Craving to Drink

Safely stopping alcohol use has positive health benefits, such as improving cognitive damage, lowering blood pressure, and improving certain types of liver impairments. (12)

Effective strategies to help overcome uncontrollable alcohol use include: (13)

  • Practicing saying no.
  • Avoiding high-risk situations.
  • Plan ahead of time to handle urges.
  • Asking for help when needed.
  • Finding healthier ways to occupy one’s time.
  • Joining a support group.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer group therapy and 12-step mentorship to help foster positive and safe group settings.

Quitting Alcohol Consumption Abruptly vs. Tapering Off

Research has found that following a schedule to taper off substances can be beneficial for cases where safe and close monitoring is not possible. (14)

Regardless of if an individual decides to abruptly stop their alcohol use or to taper off, in order to support long-term recovery, ongoing treatment may be most beneficial. Individual therapy and family therapy are both effective tools that can aid individuals in addressing underlying thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that may have contributed to their alcohol use.

At Guardian Recovery, we offer the following therapeutic modalities to help those experiencing alcohol use disorder:

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If you, or someone you love, are thinking about quitting excessive alcohol use, one of our treatment options may be ideal. At Guardian Recovery, we offer a wide range of care levels, including residential inpatientpartial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient. Contact us today to receive a complimentary, initial psychological assessment to help identify the presence of any substance use disorders, and to determine which treatment option meets your specific needs. One of our Treatment Advisors is ready to speak with you and help guide you through our simple admissions process. Ask about our free, no obligation insurance benefits check to help determine which of our treatment options is covered by your health insurance plan. Start your recovery journey here at Guardian Recovery.

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Disclaimer: Does not guarantee specific treatment outcomes, as individual results may vary. Our services are not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis; please consult a qualified healthcare provider for such matters.

  1. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/NIAAA_Alcohol_FactsandStats_102020_0.pdf
  2. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics
  3. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-topics/alcohol-facts-and-statistics/alcohol-use-disorder-aud-united-states-age-groups-and-demographic-characteristics
  4. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2013/1101/p589.html
  5. https://www.ccjm.org/content/ccjom/83/1/67.full.pdf
  6. https://www.ccjm.org/content/ccjom/83/1/67.full.pdf
  7. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0900/p253.html
  8. https://www.aafp.org/pubs/afp/issues/2021/0900/p253.html
  9. https://www.ccjm.org/content/ccjom/83/1/67.full.pdf
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK441882/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4515358/pdf/nihms709673.pdf
  13. https://www.rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov/Thinking-about-a-change/Strategies-for-cutting-down/Tips-To-Try.aspx
  14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

L.M.H.C.

Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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