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Why Cold Turkey Detox is Dangerous

Cold turkey drug detox can be very dangerous depending on which drug an individual has become addicted to and can even lead to seizures or death.

Cold turkey detox refers to quitting a substance or substances abruptly. Instead of tapering down the drug or alcohol, the individual will stop taking it immediately. The term “cold turkey” refers to goosebumps people will often get when they withdraw from the substance they have quit. Supposedly the skin of a piece of “cold turkey” looks similar to these goosebumps.

Some people think quitting a substance cold turkey is the best way to quit and that it is easier. However, quitting something a person has become dependent on or addicted to can be dangerous and lead to debilitating withdrawal symptoms, putting the person at great risk for relapse.

Quitting Drugs Using the Cold Turkey Approach

Cold turkey detox can be very dangerous, depending on which substance an individual has become addicted to. For instance, trying to stop alcohol, opiates, or benzodiazepines abruptly can be life-threatening. When someone has been taking one of these substances for a long period, the body’s central nervous system adapts to the high levels of these drugs. Therefore, when someone stops taking substances, it can cause seizures, medical conditions, and heart problems such as irregular heart rhythms.

According to the National Institute of Health, opioid withdrawal symptoms can be severe and often require medical detoxification or even hospitalization:

Opioid withdrawal syndrome is a life-threatening condition resulting from opioid dependence. Opioids are a group of drugs used for the management of severe pain. They are also commonly used as psychoactive substances around the world. Opioids include drugs such as morphine, heroin, oxycontin, codeine, methadone, and hydromorphone hydrochloride. They produce mental relaxation, pain relief, and euphoric feelings. Chronic use of opioids leads to the development of an incapacitating form of dependence in users. Opioid dependence not only impacts the drug user but also imposes a significant economic burden on society by increasing health care costs, unemployment rates, absenteeism, and premature mortality. Opioid withdrawal occurs when a patient who is dependent on opioids suddenly reduces or stops taking opioids.

Another huge danger of quitting cold turkey is that the person’s drug tolerance level quickly decreases. So if someone has quit a substance cold turkey and then relapsed, taking the same amount of the drug they were doing before they quit, they could have an overdose, which can be lethal.

Even drugs with less physical dependence, like cocaine, nicotine, or methamphetamine, can cause severe, uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms if they are stopped cold turkey. Furthermore, these drugs can cause debilitating mental and emotional effects when stopped.

Withdrawal Symptoms Vary Between Drugs

When an individual has become addicted to a substance, their body will experience a range of withdrawal symptoms if the drug is abruptly stopped. Here is a list of general physical withdrawal symptoms that can occur:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Goosebumps
  • Insomnia
  • Muscle aches
  • Runny nose
  • Shaking
  • Slow or fast heartbeat

What Happens During Cold Turkey Drug Detox

Cold turkey detox from any substance can also cause various mental and emotional withdrawal symptoms. Some of these can include:

  • Depression and anxiety
  • Paranoia
  • Irritability
  • Cravings for the drug
  • Confusion
  • Hallucinations

Cold turkey detox is not advised. It’s dangerous and can harm one’s mental and physical health. And due to the life-threatening withdrawal symptoms they can cause, alcohol, benzodiazepine, and opiate detox should be monitored closely by a medical professional. The best way to do this is by entering a medically supervised treatment environment.

Treatment for Addiction

If you or someone you love is struggling with an addiction, our addiction specialists are available around the clock to assist you. Absolute Awakenings follows an evidence-based approach to treating substance abuse disorders. We are committed to providing long-term recovery for those struggling with addiction. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach, so every person that walks through our doors is provided with a unique and individualized experience. Our recovery specialists are waiting to assist you on the journey to healing from substance abuse.


  1. Newman RK, Stobart Gallagher MA, Gomez AE. Alcohol Withdrawal. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 16, 2023.
  2. Lann MA, Molina DK. A fatal case of benzodiazepine withdrawal. Am J Forensic Med Pathol. 2009;30(2):177-179. doi:10.1097/PAF.0b013e3181875aa0
  3. Shah M, Huecker MR. Opioid Withdrawal. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022. Accessed January 16, 2023.

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At Absolute Awakenings, we take information integrity seriously. We have dedicated our resources to ensure that all content published to our blog is medically sound. As such, all content on our blog has been thoroughly reviewed by a doctorate level clinician such as a Medical Doctor, or Psy.D, so that you can trust all of the data we publish.

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