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Posted on October 15th, 2015

Going cold turkey can be a big mistake

Going cold turkey can be a big mistake

“I quit.”

If you say that as a kid playing Little League, you’re probably in for a lecture. Say that to your employer and you’ll probably be obliged.  Telling your addictions that you’re ready to quit….well, that’s bravery. Sobriety’s a tough, often scary leap into the unknown and anyone making it deserves commendation. But too often, there’s an assumption that addictions can be quit on a dime, full stop, cold turkey. That’s a mistake.

It’s one thing to take the cold turkey approach to minor substances like sugar and caffeine. Substances like nicotine can cause mood swings, sleeplessness and headaches when users stop taking them cut and dry. Hard drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines have symptoms that can make withdrawal difficult. But sudden withdrawal from alcohol, benzodiazepines and opiates is another matter altogether.

Why kicking drugs and alcohol can be lethal

Certain substances cause chemical changes in the brain when abused over long periods of time. The brain and nervous system become accustomed to the presence of the substance and adjusts its chemistry. When the brain detects depressants, it manufactures more stimulant chemicals to compensate. A sudden stop of the substance’s presence often puts the body into shock. In rare cases, this disrupts the brain’s ability to regulate breathing and circulation, which can lead to death.

What substances are the riskiest for cold turkey?

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can start just hours after the last drink. Depending on the severity and length of the patient’s addiction, they can include tremors, seizures and hallucinations. According to the Harvard Health Guide, around one in every 20 people withdrawing from alcohol develops a dangerous condition called delirium tremens, or the DTs. Delirium tremens can cause dehydration, increased blood pressure and reduced blood flow to the brain. In extreme cases, the condition can interfere with the brain’s regulation of breathing and blood circulation, potentially causing death.

  1. Opiate withdrawal is well known. Detoxing over a period of time in a controlled environment that includes medicines like Suboxone can mitigate the worst of the symptoms. But going it alone and without tapering off the exposure to opiates can be impossible for even short-term users. Alternatives like ultrarapid detoxification—a technique involving putting the patient under a general anesthetic during withdrawal aren’t proven to be effective, either. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites a Columbia University study showing patients who underwent ultrarapid detoxification awoke with the same severe withdrawal symptoms as those who used traditional detoxification methods. Additionally, three of the patients in the Columbia study who had preexisting medical conditions experienced serious physical and mental complications after ultrarapid detoxification.
  2. Recovery from benzodiazepine abuse takes years. Drugs like Klonopin, or the generic clonazepam, Valium, or the generic diazepam and Xanax, or the generic alprazolam tend to be used and abused for extended lengths of time. Traditional treatment of benzodiazepine addiction involves medical supervision as the patient tapers off the drug slowly. Aside from nausea, paranoia, panic attacks and confusion, suddenly stopping benzodiazepine use can cause hallucinations and seizures.

Sovereign Health uses a detoxification program called Natural Assisted Detox, or NAD. Instead of sedatives, the patient receives nutritional substances intravenously and orally in a medically-supervised environment. These nutrients bathe the patient’s brain and help heal the brain’s neurotransmitter and cognitive functions; while blocking withdrawal discomfort. NAD therapy can reduce the symptoms from opiate withdrawal by 50 to 60 percent in the first three days, and 70 to 80 percent by the fourth day.

Detox takes time

Going cold turkey is less a sign of resolve and strength than it is an underestimation of addiction’s power. All addicts, once they make the crucial decision to get clean, benefit from a medically-supervised detoxification process. The Arizona Detox Helpline is an excellent resource for anyone looking for the next step to sobriety. One of our experts can help find an appropriate detox program for you or someone you care about. Call us today 866-593-8453, or chat with us online.