People who have never struggled with addiction may not understand why addicts simply cannot stop using. Addiction, by nature, means that the substance abuse is out of the addict’s control. Not only are they unable to stop using, but it could also be dangerous and even life-threatening for addicts to wholly and suddenly cease use of all substances.
Quitting “cold turkey” means to abruptly and totally stop using an addictive substance. But quitting cold turkey is not a long-term solution as it does not treat the cause of addiction and may even be dangerous for the health of an addict.
Addiction is a chronic disease, meaning addicts will need ongoing treatment for the rest of their lives in the form of therapy, group sessions, medication, or rehabilitation. Quitting cold turkey is not an effective treatment. Effective treatment involves detoxification (ridding the body of toxic substances), addiction treatment (therapy and a relapse prevention plan), and aftercare (halfway house, outpatient treatment, therapy, Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, job, and housing support, volunteer work).
Dependence and withdrawal
As an addict continues use of any substance, their bodies will first develop a tolerance for the substance. The addict will then need to use more and more of the substance to achieve the desired results. Eventually, the addiction centers not on achieving a high, but of avoiding physical and psychological discomfort. This state is known as dependence.
Once an addict is dependent on a substance and tries to quit cold turkey, the brain and body have gotten dependent on the substance to function. Taking away that substance has a variety of unpleasant consequences, known as withdrawal.
Withdrawal symptoms will vary from person to person and are affected by the type of drug, amount, and duration of abuse. Withdrawal symptoms may include: abnormal heart rate, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, seizures, auditory or visual hallucinations, paranoia, irritability, confusion, fever, high blood pressure, sweating, shivering, hot or cold flashes, anxiety, depression, cravings, sleeping too much or trouble sleeping, fatigue, inability to concentrate, stomach pain, headache, digestive problems, and bone and muscle pain.
Withdrawal can be fatal
Severe withdrawal symptoms, such as seizure, confusion, or hallucinations, must be taken seriously. If you suspect someone is experiencing severe withdrawal, seek emergency medical attention right away. The effects of withdrawal can be life-threatening if left untreated.
Physical symptoms of withdrawal are very painful and difficult. Having access to full-time care and assistance at a rehabilitation facility can make withdrawal easier and keep addicts sober at a time when they are very vulnerable to relapse. The psychological effects of withdrawal, such as depression and anxiety can cause suicidal ideation and actions.
Medical detox is the best and safest way to wean off of substances, rather than attempting to quit cold turkey. Some addictions, such as opiate addictions, can even be treated with prescription medication to make withdrawal easier. Treatment at a rehabilitation center is the best way to ensure full-time physical and emotional support when quitting any substance.