The Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

The Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey
The Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey
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The risks of alcoholism and alcohol dependence are becoming starkly clear.Studies over the last 30 years have shown that it is so damaging to your health that there is no safe limit for drinking. But for those with alcohol addiction, there is also a risk in stopping drinking suddenly and without medical help. 

Timeline of a Cold Turkey Detox

Day 1-2

You will start feeling withdrawal symptoms around 8-12 hours after your last drink. The initial symptoms are usually:
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Shaking
  • Confusion
  • Insomnia
  • Paranoia

Day 2-3

More severe symptoms appear 24 to 48 hours after your last drink. This is the riskiest period for cold turkey and the time when the largest number of people abandon their attempt to quit in this way. The symptoms will be like initial withdrawal but worsen over time, and more may appear.

Day 3-7

 On top of the initial symptoms, you may experience:
  • Delirium tremens
  • Depression
  • Brain fog
  • Nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Severe Dehydration
  • Heart Problems

Risks of Quitting Without Help

Delirium Tremens

The DTs, or 'the shakes,' is one of the most severe and dangerous conditions caused by cold turkey detox from alcohol. It is specific to alcohol and usually only happens if you have been drinking very large amounts of alcohol for over 30 days before the detox. Delirium tremens can involve shaking, fever, irregular heart rate, hallucinations and occasionally seizures. Delirium tremens can be deadly if not treated with medication and occurs in around 5% of people with alcoholism when quitting without a medical detox. 


Although not a symptom, there is a significant risk that the experience of cold turkey quitting may cause someone to return to drinking. They may consider it a way to ease symptoms or feel like they are not getting the reward or good feeling from stopping drinking. 

Nutritional Deficiency

This might not sound like the worst of cold turkey symptoms, but malnutrition can be extremely dangerous and uncomfortable. Many of the side effects of cold turkey detox from alcohol are related to vitamin or nutrient deficiency. 


Vitamin B1 is heavily depleted by excessive alcohol use due to the damage alcohol does to the stomach lining. This impairs your system's ability to absorb B1 from food and other normal sources.Injections of high levels of B1 are often part of a medical alcohol detox. Signs of thiamine deficiency are appetite loss, nausea, lack of concentration, depression, heart problems, and irritability. 


Poor appetite and eating habits make zinc deficiency common in alcoholics. Zinc deficiency can lead to common alcohol detox symptoms such as depression, confusion, and exhaustion.

Why Choose a Medical Detox?

A medical alcohol detox at home or in a rehab center is the safest and most comfortable way to quit drinking. Depending on your symptoms, a detox doctor will prescribe you a balance of medication to keep you safe and feeling as well as possible. The most commonly used medications are:


A sedative medication, Librium, is given during alcohol detox to combat delirium tremens, stop insomnia, restlessness, and anxiety. 


A different type of sedative that helps with delirium tremens, insomnia and anxiety. These can be some of the most difficult symptoms of initial alcohol detox.


Depression and low mood are common in people with alcoholism as the cause and result of too much alcohol. Using antidepressants can disrupt this cycle and offer a better alternative to self-medicating with alcohol. 


Stabilizing the chemical signals in the brain that are disrupted by long-term alcohol overuse, Acamprosate can improve cravings and increase the chances of abstinence. 

Vitamin B infusions

Due to how alcohol impacts the stomach's absorption of vitamin B, this is a common deficiency in those with alcoholism. IV infusions of vitamin B can overcome this, alleviating many withdrawal symptoms. 

Zinc Supplements

Often the tiredness and confusion during alcohol detox result from zinc deficiency. Using supplements to top up zinc can deal with these symptoms effectively. 

Support Groups

Stopping either cold turkey or with a medical detox is extremely important but tough on your body and mind. Emotional support and guidance from experience can make a huge difference. An alcohol counselor can be a big help, but support groups are often a lifeline for people with addictions. Sharing your experience and hearing from other people in the same position can help you see the end in sight. They may also offer helpful ways to manage your symptoms and prevent you from relapsing. 

The Verdict on Cold Turkey Alcohol Detox

The symptoms are the key to deciding whether to try a cold turkey detox. How you feel when you stop drinking will tell you whether you can or should stop on your own.Anyone experiencing dangerous symptoms such as delirium tremens, seizures, hallucinations or severe depression should choose a medical detox.The same applies if you think your side effects will cause you to return to drinking. Alcoholism is dangerous to your health and the lives of those around you. If you stop drinking and only experience mild symptoms you can easily manage, you can stop cold turkey. Managing your health with a supportive friend or family member and support groups is a huge help. Your pharmacist or doctor can offer further advice and over-the-counter treatments to manage your symptoms and help you to recover. The most important thing to remember is that however bad you feel, it is always better than continuing to abuse alcohol. For people with alcohol addiction, there is a huge risk to their life every time they drink. You can take the first, all-important step to free yourself from addiction today; you have less to lose than you think by stopping. 
Categorized into General Health