3 Tips to Help You Quit Drinking Cold Turkey

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

Today, we’ll be giving you 3 tips to help you learn how to quit drinking cold turkey – or, more accurately, how to determine if it’s safe for you to quit drinking alcohol abruptly.

Alcohol might be socially acceptable, but it’s also the most abused of all addictive substances. According to NCADD (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence), almost 1 in 12 adults in the United States is dependent on alcohol.

Now, if you are abusing alcohol to the extent you are thinking about quitting, you have the following broad options:

  • Quit drinking cold turkey
  • Gradually taper off alcohol with a view to moderation
  • Gradually taper off alcohol with a view to long-term abstinence
  • Engage with professional addiction treatment

For anyone with severe alcohol use disorder, there are treatment options to help you. Renaissance Recovery’s Southern California recovery center is the most effective route to sustained sobriety, this can include things like drug and alcohol detox, outpatient, aftercare, and more.

Most moderate and mild alcohol use disorders, by contrast, respond favorably to outpatient treatment. Studies show outpatient treatment is just as effective as residential rehab for most cases of alcohol use disorder.

We understand that not everyone drinking problematically needs any kind of professional treatment, and we also realize that some people can successfully and safely detox from alcohol at home.

Our goal today, then, is to help you establish whether you fit the criteria for a home detox and recovery, or whether you would find it safer and more comfortable with some professional support in place.

3 Tips to Help You Quit Drinking Cold Turkey

  1. Make sure it is safe for you to quit drinking cold turkey
  2. Create a tapering schedule with a fixed end date
  3. Build a robust support team

1) Make Sure it is Safe for You to Quit Drinking Cold Turkey

For heavy drinkers or anyone with reasonably high alcohol consumption, quitting alcohol is not risk-free.

In some cases, acute alcohol withdrawal sets in, characterized by severe symptoms and potentially triggering complications that might require medical attention.

According to the NEJM (New England Journal of Medicine), about half of all alcohol-dependent individuals will experience withdrawal symptoms upon quitting. Between 3% and 5%, though, will encounter a much more severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens. Symptoms of the DTs include delirium, hallucinations, and grand mal seizures.

As well as the possibility of seizures, DTs can also trigger cardiac arrhythmias and hyperthermia, as well as inflaming co-occurring mental health or medical disorders.

One of the hidden dangers of DTs is that they often don’t manifest until up to three days after your last drink. Some people feel they are out of the woods when detoxing at home, only to encounter delirium tremens with no medical support on hand.

If you have been drinking heavily and/or long-term, you should strongly consider reassessing detoxing from alcohol at home. This also applies if you are using other CNS depressants like benzodiazepines or sleep aids.

Also, anyone with a dual diagnosis – a co-occurring mental health disorder and alcohol use disorder – should think closely about seeking medical assistance to detox.

In most other cases, you could consider detoxing from alcohol at home, although it’s worth consulting with your healthcare provider first for advice.

Our next tip shows you that there is some middle ground if you don’t feel confident of quitting cold turkey safely at home, but you don’t want to engage with addiction treatment: tapering.

2) Create a Tapering Schedule with a Fixed End Date

Creating a tapering schedule could help to ease the intensity of the withdrawal symptoms and cravings you experience during alcohol detox.

A week should be sufficient for you to consistently slash your alcohol intake so you won’t be stopping the cold from a regular handful of daily beers.

Having said that, the time period is arbitrary and personal. You may feel that tapering over the course of a few weeks or even months gives you the strongest chance of quitting alcohol for good.

Try to formulate a tapering schedule you are confident you can stick with, and then commit fully to executing that plan. If you fail on your first attempt, don’t let that put you off. Don’t get caught in a rut of repeatedly trying and failing, though. Many people find willpower alone is inadequate and you should rethink seeking and obtaining the right professional treatment if you can’t go it alone. This is not a sign of weakness or failure.

3) Build a Robust Support Team

If you feel you have a drinking problem but you are determined to detox cold turkey at home, you should make sure you have a solid support team around you. Lean on these people for psychological support.

If you don’t have a suitable personal network for this, consider joining a support group like AA, or a secular alternative like SMART Recovery.

Engaging with a counselor or therapist could also give you an extra edge in your attempt to quit drinking cold turkey at home.

OK, with those simple tips in place, you should now have an accurate idea of whether or not it makes sense for you to safely try quitting booze cold turkey.

We’ll highlight now some of the most common physical effects you can expect to encounter when withdrawing from an alcohol cold.

Physical Effects of Quitting Alcohol

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms range from extremely mild to life-threatening.

These are some of the physical withdrawal symptoms associated with alcohol detox:

  • Headache
  • Delirium
  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Muscle weakness
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Clammy skin
  • Restlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Appetite loss
  • Rapid heart rate

Signs & Side Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are diagnosed using the CIWA-Ar as mild, moderate, or severe.

Mild AWS has correspondingly mild effects.

Physically, you can expect tremors and headaches accompanying GI issues and abdominal pain.

You could also encounter vomiting and appetite loss, and you may find your sleep patterns are disrupted.

Effects on the brain include a feeling of depression. This is typical and usually subsides quite quickly.

Moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms include all of the above along with increased body temperature (hyperthermia) and breathing issues. Raised blood pressure is also common among those with moderate AWS.

Mood swings and a sense of confusion are some of the main psychological effects of moderate alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

More severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be dangerous if you have no medical assistance on hand.

As well as high blood pressure and fever, you also run the risk of seizure if you experience delirium tremens. This can be dangerous and possibly even deadly.

We all know that abusing alcohol can cause ruinous health effects, including heart attack and an increased risk of some cancers. Luckily, getting the right alcohol treatment is just a phone call away.

Getting Help at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery Center, our team of medical professionals uses evidence-based methods to help you build a solid foundation for ongoing recovery from alcohol use disorder.

If quitting cold turkey is not for you, medical detox and MAT (medication-assisted treatment) offer a more comfortable alternative. FDA-approved medications can help soothe the intensity of both alcohol withdrawal symptoms and cravings for alcohol.

MAT is delivered in combination with the following:

  • Individual counseling
  • Group counseling
  • Taking therapies like CBT or DBT
  • Holistic therapies
  • Vocational development programs

If you need more time commitment and structure than a traditional outpatient program provides, we also offer both IOPs and PHPs for alcohol use disorder.

All you need to do is reach out to Renaissance Recovery’s Orange County rehab today at 866.330.9449 and learn how to quit drinking.

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country