Cold Turkey: Quitting Drinking, Alcohol Withdrawal, and What Happens When You Quit Drinking Cold Turkey
John Lennon sang about the negative effects of substance withdrawal in his 1969 song “Cold Turkey.”
Fever is high
Can’t see no future
Can’t see no sky
While Lennon has expressly stated that this particular song is about his experience while withdrawing from heroin, the all-encompassing nature of withdrawal can be applied to many other substance use issues as well. This song also helped to bring the term to the forefront of popular culture.
Despite the edible implications of the term, cold turkey does not refer to leftovers. It refers to stopping the use of addictive substances, completely and abruptly, or to undergo sudden and complete withdrawal from a habitual activity or behavior pattern. The term is said to originate from the goosebumps and reaction of the skin during withdrawal. It closely resembles the skin of a turkey in the fridge.
This is an admittedly silly term for an action or condition that can come with some very serious implications, even death. In this article, we will be discussing what happens to the body, physically and mentally when someone stops the habitual consumption of alcohol.
Am I Drinking Too Much Alcohol?
Before we can fully understand withdrawal, we must first determine how much alcohol is too much. A diagnosis of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder may be given to someone whose drinking patterns begin to negatively affect every aspect of their life. However, this addiction is not always easy to determine.
Research from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) has determined that anyone who meets 2 of the 11 following criteria within a 12-month period may be diagnosed with alcoholism or an alcohol use disorder.
In order to accurately assess whether you or a loved one may be suffering from a problem with alcohol, here are some questions to consider. In the past year, have you:
- Had times when you ended up drinking more, or longer than you intended?
- More than once wanted to cut down or stop drinking, or tried to, but couldn’t?
- Spent a lot of time drinking? Or being sick or getting over the aftereffects?
- Experienced craving, a strong need, or urge, to drink?
- Found that drinking, or being sick from drinking, often interfered with taking care of your home or family? Or caused job troubles? Or school problems?
- Continued to drink even though it was causing trouble with your family or friends?
- Given up or cut back on activities that were important or interesting to you, or gave you pleasure, in order to drink?
- Continued to drink even though it was making you feel depressed or anxious or adding to another health problem? Or after having had a memory blackout?
- Had to drink much more than you once did to get the effect you want? Or found that your usual number of drinks had much less effect than before?
- Found that when the effects of alcohol were wearing off, you had withdrawal symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, shakiness, irritability, anxiety, depression, restlessness, nausea, or sweating? Or sensed things that were not actually there?
If any of these symptoms are things that you or a loved one have experienced, your drinking habits may already be cause for concern. The more symptoms you’ve experienced, the more likely it is that you’ve become physically dependent on alcohol.
The Effects of Habitual Alcohol Use on the Brain
It’s important to understand how alcohol affects the brain in order to understand what happens when the habitual use of alcohol is abruptly stopped. The depressant effects of alcohol have a calming and relaxing effect on the brain. These desired effects of alcohol are actually interfering with the way that the brain communicates naturally. Heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to the slowing of the respiratory system and even lead to dangerously slow breathing. This risk is compounded when other substances are consumed alongside alcohol. This is known as polysubstance use and is incredibly dangerous.
Alcohol also affects the pleasure centers of the brain, telling them to create a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is the chemical messenger that is responsible for many feelings of happiness, contentment, pleasure, and even memory. The more habitual your alcohol use becomes, the more the brain accommodates for this newfound source of dopamine. When the consumption of alcohol is suddenly stopped, the brain’s natural systems remain functioning abnormally. This leads to a deficit in dopamine and other effects that cause negative issues related to alcohol withdrawal.
If you or a loved one has developed an addiction to alcohol, Serenity Lane is here to help you regain control of your life.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin to occur within 12 to 24 hours of abstaining from alcohol. For severe or long-term alcohol users, the effects of alcohol withdrawal can begin to show themselves much sooner. Many people who suffer from alcoholism have developed a lifestyle that enables them to keep a certain blood alcohol level at all times. A slight reduction in blood alcohol level, even in the first couple hours of abstinence, can trigger a series of negative reactions and symptoms.
Mild symptoms of alcohol withdrawal can begin to show themselves within 6 hours of abstinence. These symptoms can include:
While very uncomfortable and potentially serious, these are not the most dangerous symptoms of alcohol withdrawal. Sudden alcohol cessation (SAC) is a syndrome that develops in the early stages of alcohol detox and occurs when the body is shocked by the deprivation of alcohol. The longer and more severe the addiction, the more severe the ramifications of SAC can be. Most fatalities from alcohol withdrawal occur within this phase.
Along with SAC comes a list of very serious consequences:
- Delirium tremens (DT): Symptoms of delirium tremens can begin to show themselves within 48 to 96 hours after the cessation of alcohol use. People experiencing the effects of DTs may become highly agitated, confused, or disoriented. They may also experience visual and auditory hallucinations and develop extreme sensitivity to light and sound. People experiencing DTs may also fall into a deep, coma-like, sleep. At this stage in detox, potentially fatal seizures can occur.
- Heart failure: Disturbance or changes in the rhythm of the heart may produce effects that are serious enough to interrupt the contractions of the heart. Although heart failure typically affects older, long-term alcohol users who have already started to experience alcohol-related deterioration, heart problems can happen to anyone who is attempting to quit drinking without medical supervision.
- Malnutrition: People addicted to alcohol often neglect their body’s nutritional needs, which can lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. Even alcohol users who consume an adequate amount of nutrients may be experiencing malnutrition because alcohol can damage the cells of the stomach, leading to difficulties in the absorption of nutrients. Clients that go through the detoxification process are often given nutrient supplements as well as medications to offset nutritional deficiencies.
Detox and the Treatment of Alcohol Withdrawal
We currently provide a cutting-edge medically-supported withdrawal program, also known as detox, at our inpatient treatment facility in Coburg, Oregon. The first step in your recovery from alcohol use disorder is detox.
Our team of medical professionals uses a standardized protocol that is designed to be the most effective way to receive long-term recovery from dependence on alcohol. They are prepared and qualified to handle all aspects of detox, including withdrawal symptoms and mental health issues that may occur.
In order to be sure that safety is the top priority of medical detox, Serenity Lane focuses on the benefits of having qualified, compassionate professionals that can handle the withdrawal process with ease. The discomfort and pain that can be associated with alcohol and drug withdrawal can make it crucial that those going through detox get a medical intervention that combines both their emotional and medical needs. Alongside the physical risks of quitting alcohol on your own, this focus on treating the whole client is why a medical detox program is so important.
At Serenity Lane, our processes are developed with the goal of giving you the best chance of turning problem drinking into lasting recovery.
Doctor Supervision and Medications Used in Detox
While there are no medications that will instantly and completely resolve the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, some medications may be used to manage individual symptoms. Craving-management medications, such as Vivitrol®, may also be used to help in your recovery. A doctor will monitor your condition and help you cope with symptoms in a compassionate, caring environment. Your health is our number one priority.
Serenity Lane Is Here To Help You Quit Alcohol for Good
When choosing a treatment center for alcohol use disorder, it is important to choose one that understands the disease of addiction and the best ways to help promote strong, lasting change. Under the care of our compassionate team of healthcare professionals, we will guide you through the first steps of living a life free of alcohol dependence.
With centers all around Oregon, Serenity Lane makes your physical and mental health our number one priority.
You’re stronger than you may think, and we’re here to help.
Call us today at 800-543-9905 for a no-cost consultation from one of our mental health professionals.
Frequently Asked Questions
What happens after three days of not drinking?
The first few days after stopping drinking can be intense and uncomfortable as your body reacts to the absence of alcohol. Depending on your level of consumption and length of addiction, your body’s chemistry may have changed to accommodate for the influx of alcohol. While in most cases it is entirely possible for the body to repair itself when you quit drinking, it can be very dangerous to stop on your own. It is highly recommended that you seek detox at a licensed substance use treatment center.
Can your body go into shock when you quit drinking?
Yes, your body can go into shock after you quit consuming alcohol. There are a whole host of different negative side effects that go along with alcohol withdrawal including nausea, tremors, anxiety, and headache. Other serious effects, such as seizures and delirium, can occur as well so it is highly recommended that you seek detox at a licensed substance use treatment clinic.
How do I stop drinking immediately?
The best and safest way to quit drinking is to seek medically-supervised detox at a licensed substance use treatment center. Treatment centers are able to help you manage the physical and mental symptoms of withdrawal and avoid some of the dangers of detoxing on your own.
What happens to your body if you stop drinking?
Initially, the body will be in shock due to the absence of alcohol. Over time, the body and brain have acclimated to the presence of alcohol in the bloodstream leading to a potentially dangerous withdrawal period that lasts four or five days.