Why Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey is Risky

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quitting alcohol cold turkey

It’s understandable why you might decide to just quit drinking alcohol on an impulse. Your heavy drinking may be causing some serious problems in your marriage, your job, or even your health. As noble as the intent is to just stop drinking, quitting alcohol cold turkey can involve certain health risks. Read on to learn a better way to discontinue your drinking habit.

Why Would Someone Want to Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

There are many reasons why a person who is struggling with the effects of alcoholism might be tempted to up and quit. Daily life is difficult when you are plagued with cravings or withdrawal symptoms. Some of the reasons why a person might want to quit drinking cold turkey include:

  • To avoid the cost of a detox center.
  • Confidentiality
  • Received an ultimatum from spouse.
  • Being uninformed about the risks.
  • Upcoming drug and alcohol screening.

Regardless of the reason, for someone who is dependent or addicted to alcohol to abruptly quit drinking, is a dangerous option.

What are the Risks of Quitting Alcohol Suddenly?

Quitting alcohol cold turkey is likely to cause your body to enter a highly unstable state. This is due to emerging withdrawal symptoms. Symptoms tend to appear within six to twelve hours of the last drink. 

Without having medical support present, you would most likely not be aware of your vital signs. These are the basic measurements of your heart rate and blood pressure that, during withdrawal, can send off warning signs.

When you are not being monitored during detox, these symptoms are not addressed. As a result, any of the following adverse events can occur:

  • Annandaled blood pressure. A spike in blood pressure during alcohol withdrawal is common and must be monitored to prevent hypertensive urgency or emergency.
  • Seizures. Tonic clonal, or grand mal seizure can occur during withdrawal, which can lead to loss of consciousness.
  • Delirium tremens. The DTs affect a small subset of people who have a long history of alcohol abuse. DTs may cause severe confusion, seizure, and coma.

Learn About the Factors that Increase Risks During Alcohol Detox

There is a reason why it is always advised to undergo detox under medical supervision. Alcohol detox can be unpredictable, and even dangerous, which people are not equipped to manage on their own.

The factors that impact the severity of alcohol detox include:

  • History of alcoholism. The duration, the length of time, of heavy drinking is a key factor when gauging symptom severity.
  • Daily consumption. Along with duration, the amount of alcohol consumed on a daily basis is a predictor for symptom severity.
  • General health. If you have chronic medical conditions it increases the risks during detox.
  • Prior detox history. Someone who has attempted alcohol detox multiple times is at a higher risk of the DTs.
  • Mental health issues. Having a co-occurring anxiety, bipolar, or depression can be an added risk during withdrawal. 
  • Polysubstance addiction. If you are addicted to alcohol plus another substance it places you at higher risk during withdrawal.

What Triggers the Delirium Tremens (DTs)?

The DTs is a medical event that can occur in some people while going through alcohol detox. The DTs may emerge on days 3-4 and involve severe mental confusion, hallucinations, delusions, seizures, shallow breathing, shaking, rapid heart rate, and disorientation.

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Causes of the DTs are somewhat unclear, although these risk factors may trigger the condition:

  • Age (middle age or older).
  • History of seizures during alcohol withdrawal in the past. 
  • Abnormal liver function.
  • Having a co-existing mental health disorder.
  • The number of attempted detoxes in the past.
  • Extreme alcohol cravings.

With the onset of DTs, the person will become highly uncoordinated and may experience extreme mental confusion and hallucinations. The person may see images of spiders, rats, reptiles, or other things that would cause fear. Along with these, night terrors and delusions are also possible. Profuse sweating, high blood pressure, and increased heart rate are also common with the DTs. 

Alcohol Detox Symptoms and Timeline

There are three distinct stages involved in alcohol detox and withdrawal. These stages include:

  • Stage I: The early phase of withdrawal begins within 6-8 hours of the last drink.  This first stage lasts about 24-48 hours. Symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, tremors, fatigue, anxiety, foggy thinking, and trouble sleeping.
  • Stage II: During the second phase, days 2-4, discomfort from the symptoms will peak. Unpleasant and potentially dangerous symptoms occur during this stage. These may include heart palpitations, increased heart rate, hypertension, fever, increased respiratory rate, mental confusion, profuse sweating, mood swings, and irritability.
  • Stage III: The final stage begins after day four and may persist for days or weeks. Stage III features depression, anxiety, confusion, insomnia, and cravings. Most of the other symptoms subside at this stage.

Which Treatment Setting is Best for You?

After completing your medical detox, you will be advised to enter a treatment program. It is during the treatment phase of recovery that you learn how to overcome the addictive behavior patterns.

There are two treatment settings to choose from, outpatient or residential. Outpatient is a good option for someone with a milder alcohol use disorder, as it allows for a great deal of freedom. A residential treatment setting is best for someone with a moderate to severe alcohol use disorder. These centers provide housing and offer 24-hour support and monitoring.

Treatment will include:

  • Therapy. Weekly individual talk therapy sessions with a masters level psychologist.
  • Group. Multiple weekly group therapy sessions guided by a therapist or clinician.
  • 12-step. Participation in a 12-step or similar recovery program.
  • Education. Classes that educate clients about how addiction works and how to avoid a relapse.
  • Holistic activities. Holistic methods, like yoga, meditation, acupuncture, art therapy, recreational therapy, and mindfulness, can offer mental health benefits.

If you are ready to stop drinking and enter recovery, don’t make the mistake of attempting detox on your own. Reach out for expert support today.

Annandale Behavioral Health

California Alcohol Detox

Annandale Behavioral Health is a residential addiction treatment center that offers a safe setting for alcohol detox and subsequent treatment. If you still wonder why quitting alcohol cold turkey is not wise, give us a call for further guidance. Call us today at (855) 778-8668