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Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

In the United States, alcohol consumption dominates the usage of addictive substances. Alcohol dependency is an easily accessible problem to succumb to. The fact that it's so hard to kick is the most alarming thing about this widely used substance. Alcoholism is one of the rare substance use disorders where death may result from withdrawal.

Many alcoholics trying to sober up feel that quitting cold turkey is the best and quickest option. However, that is not at all true. Quitting suddenly might increase your chance of serious complications.

It is hazardous to stop drinking cold turkey. Getting help at a medical detox and inpatient addiction treatment program is always the safest route. Behavioral therapies CBT and DBT and support groups like AA have proven effective in treating alcohol use disorder.

What Happens When You Quit Drinking Cold Turkey?

Many individuals often wonder the same question, can an alcoholic quit cold turkey? Quitting drinking "cold turkey" is when you abruptly stop consuming alcohol without medical support. This can have serious health risks and withdrawal symptoms.

The severity of these symptoms can vary depending on the individual's level of alcohol dependence, overall health, and previous withdrawal experiences. Here are some potential consequences of quitting cold turkey:


1. Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome (AWS)

  • Tremors: Shaking or trembling hands, especially noticeable in the mornings.

  • Anxiety and restlessness: Feelings of nervousness, unease, and difficulty relaxing.

  • Insomnia: Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep.

  • Sweating and increased heart rate: Excessive sweating and rapid heart rate.

  • Nausea and vomiting: Upset stomach, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

  • Headache: Persistent or throbbing headaches.

  • Irritability and mood swings: Frequent changes in mood, irritability, and agitation.

  • Hallucinations: Seeing or hearing things that are not real (can occur in severe cases).

  • Seizures: Uncontrolled electrical activity in the brain can occur in severe cases.


2. Delirium Tremens (DT)

  • DT is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition that can occur in a small percentage of individuals experiencing alcohol withdrawal.

  • The indications include extreme perplexity, delusions, elevated body temperature, accelerated heartbeat, increased blood pressure, and likely convulsions.

  • Urgent medical care is necessary for DT and should not be handled without medical oversight.


3. Other Health Risks

  • Dehydration: Alcohol withdrawal can lead to fluid and electrolyte imbalances, increasing the risk of dehydration.

  • Nutritional deficiencies: Chronic alcohol use can interfere with the body's ability to absorb and use nutrients. This can lead to defects in vitamins and minerals.

  • Worsening of underlying health conditions: Alcohol withdrawal can worsen underlying health conditions. These conditions may include liver disease, cardiovascular and mental health disorders.

Medically Reviewed:


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Expert Contributor

Dr. Williams presently serves on the board of Directors for two non-profit service organizations. He holds a Master’s degree in Human Services from Lincoln University, Philadelphia, Pa, and a Ph.D. with a concentration in Clinical Psychology from Union Institute and University. In Cincinnati, Ohio. He is licensed to practice addictions counseling in both New Jersey and Connecticut and has a pending application as a practicing Psychologist in New Jersey.

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Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur when a person stops drinking after drinking heavily for a long time. These symptoms can be physical and psychological. These symptoms can range from mild to severe and last several days or weeks.

The severity of symptoms varies. It depends on multiple factors. These include the person's overall health, the amount and frequency of alcohol consumption, and the duration of alcohol abuse.


Common physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include tremors, sweating, nausea, vomiting, headaches, and elevated heart rate and blood pressure. More severe symptoms include seizures, hallucinations, and delirium tremens, which can be life-threatening without proper medical treatment. Psychological symptoms include anxiety, agitation, insomnia, and depression.

Several physiological and biochemical changes occur in the body when alcohol consumption is abruptly stopped, causing alcohol withdrawal. Prolonged alcohol abuse changes the brain's neurotransmitters, which control mood, behavior, and cognitive function.

Abrupt cessation of alcohol consumption leads to an overactive nervous system, which can cause the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal.

Rolling Hills Recovery Center offers free 24/7 alcohol addiction support. Call today and confidentially speak with our addiction specialists at 855-559-8550.

How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last? (Timeline)

The length of alcohol withdrawal can differ. Elements like the severity of alcohol addiction, overall well-being, and past withdrawal encounters can impact this. Here is a basic outline of the timeline for alcohol withdrawal.


1. Early Stage (6-12 hours after the last drink)

  • Mild withdrawal symptoms may begin to appear within this timeframe.

  • These symptoms include anxiety, restlessness, irritability, and mild tremors.

  • Some individuals may experience cravings for alcohol during this stage.


2. Peak Stage (24-72 hours after the last drink)

  • Withdrawal symptoms typically peak during this period.

  • Symptoms include increased heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, excessive sweating, headache, insomnia, nausea, and vomiting.

  • Psychological symptoms such as anxiety, depression, and mood swings may also be prominent.

  • In severe cases, individuals may experience hallucinations and seizures.

  • Delirium Tremens (DT) is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition. It can occur during withdrawal, usually within 48-72 hours after someone stops drinking.


3. Subsiding Stage (3-7 days after the last drink)

  • Withdrawal symptoms generally begin to subside during this phase.

  • Physical symptoms such as tremors and gastrointestinal disturbances tend to improve.

  • Psychological symptoms may still be present but usually start to diminish.

  • Some individuals may experience lingering fatigue and difficulty sleeping.


4. Post-Acute Stage (weeks to months after the last drink)

  • Some individuals may experience protracted withdrawal symptoms that persist for weeks or months after the acute withdrawal stage.

  • These symptoms include ongoing mood swings, anxiety, insomnia, and difficulty concentrating.

  • Cravings for alcohol may also continue during this stage, requiring ongoing support and relapse prevention strategies.

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Dangerous Side Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal

Here are some of the most hazardous side effects of alcohol withdrawal:


Delirium Tremens (DT)

Delirium Tremens (DT) is a grave and possibly fatal state that may arise when someone stops consuming alcohol. It typically develops within 48-72 hours after the last drink, but in some cases, it can happen later.

DT is a serious condition. Symptoms include confusion, disorientation, hallucinations, agitation, irritability, fever, rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, and seizures.

These symptoms can be highly distressing and require immediate medical attention. DT is more common in individuals with a history of heavy alcohol use and previous withdrawal episodes.



During alcohol withdrawal, hallucinations occur within 12-24 hours after the last drink. These hallucinations are often visual and may involve seeing objects, people, or animals that aren't present. The hallucinations can be vivid and realistic, causing significant distress and anxiety.

While they may subside within a few days, in some cases, they can persist longer. It is essential to seek medical help if experiencing hallucinations during alcohol withdrawal to ensure appropriate care and management.



For heavy drinkers, seizures are a possible side effect of alcohol withdrawal. This is especially true for people who have a history of drinking heavily or have had seizures during alcohol withdrawal before.


Withdrawal seizures typically occur between 6 and 48 hours after the last alcoholic drink. Symptoms of the condition include confusion, delusions, high body temperature, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, and potential convulsions. Signs of a hallucinatory episode include intense disorientation and visual and auditory illusions. Other indications may include elevated body temperature, accelerated pulse, blood pressure, and potential convulsions.


The seizures may manifest as convulsions, loss of consciousness, muscle stiffness, or jerking movements. They can be alarming and require immediate medical attention. Prompt medical intervention can help manage seizures effectively and reduce the risk of further complications.


Psychological Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal can lead to a range of psychological symptoms. Anxiety is widespread during withdrawal. It can be accompanied by restlessness, irritability, and a feeling of impending doom.


Depression can also occur, characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities once enjoyed. Other psychological symptoms may include mood swings, difficulty concentrating, and cognitive impairment.

These symptoms can be distressing and may persist for weeks or months after alcohol cessation. Seeking professional support can assist in managing these psychological symptoms effectively.


Physical Symptoms

Alongside psychological symptoms, physical discomforts can arise during alcohol withdrawal. Headaches, sweating, increased heart rate and blood pressure, tremors, and gastrointestinal disturbances can be symptoms of dehydration. Tremors are commonly referred to as "the shakes." Nausea and vomiting are common gastrointestinal disturbances.

These symptoms can contribute to significant discomfort and may require medical intervention for appropriate management. Drinking enough water, eating well, and getting medical help at a treatment center can ease physical symptoms and make withdrawal safer.

Treatment Options: Alcohol Tappering vs. Quitting Cold Turkey

When it comes to treating alcohol dependence, two common approaches are alcohol tapering and quitting cold turkey. Here's an overview of each treatment option:

Alcohol addiction is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. It is a condition that requires effective treatment options to minimize the damage and restore the health of the affected individuals. Two major treatment options exist; alcohol tapering and quitting cold turkey.

Alcohol tapering is a process of reducing alcohol intake slowly and under the medical supervision of medical professionals. This process takes place during a medical detox. Many individuals who cannot quit alcohol due to the severity of their addiction prefer this method.

It aims to reduce the risk of withdrawal symptoms that can be life-threatening in some cases. Medical supervision carries out this approach and monitors the individual's health condition to ensure no complications arise.

On the other hand, quitting cold turkey involves abrupt cessation of alcohol intake. This method poses more challenges, and experts do not consider it an effective approach to treating alcohol addiction.


People associate quitting cold turkey with experiencing intense withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety, sweating, irritability, nausea, and seizures. Not everyone who stops suddenly will experience severe symptoms. Always consult with a professional. If you or a loved one is experiencing withdrawal symptoms and is considering an alcohol addiction treatment program contact us today.


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Treatment Options: Alcohol Tappering vs. Quitting Cold Turkey
Dangerous Side Effects of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
How Long Does Alcohol Withdrawal Last? (Timeline)

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