Quitting Alcohol: Should You Medical Detox or Go Cold Turkey?

Many who struggle with alcohol use disorder know how difficult it can be to quit drinking on their own. Quitting alcohol can result in strong cravings and withdrawal symptoms that include nausea, vomiting, and seizures — which is why many addicts who quit on their own relapse and resume drinking. If you’re serious about quitting drinking, knowing the difference between undergoing medical detox and quitting cold turkey can help you make the right decision when your goal is to stay sober.

Are you struggling with alcohol use disorder and aren’t sure where to turn for help? Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to speak with an addiction treatment counselor who can discuss your rehab and detox options.

Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal

Those with alcohol use disorder often become physically dependent on alcohol. This means that failing to consume alcohol regularly can cause adverse side effects, also known as withdrawal symptoms. These symptoms occur when the brain and body recover and rebalance after having become physically dependent on alcohol.

Quitting Alcohol

Disorientation and confusion are common alcohol withdrawal symptoms.

Common alcohol withdrawal and detox symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating
  • Insomnia
  • Headache
  • Shaking
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Fever
  • Irregular heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures

Minor withdrawal symptoms such as nausea and vomiting often start occurring within six to 12 hours of quitting drinking. Hallucinations can start occurring between 12 and 24 hours after quitting, while more severe withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and seizures can appear anywhere between 48 hours and 5 days after quitting.

The Dangers of Quitting Cold Turkey

Many addicts are under the impression that quitting substances cold turkey is an effective way to get sober, when in fact, the risk for relapse is higher when quitting cold turkey. Those who quit cold turkey will experience cravings and side effects that drive the urge to resume drinking just to relieve these painful and uncomfortable sensations.

Quitting alcohol cold turkey can also be fatal for those who suffer from coexisting medical conditions, such as those with a history of stroke and heart disease. Certain withdrawal symptoms can worsen certain health conditions, and increase the risk for coma or death. Many times, recovering addicts need medical support and help to get through withdrawal safely.

The Benefits of Medical Detox

Medical detoxification, or detox, is when addicts take prescription medications that eliminate or strongly reduce cravings and withdrawal symptoms. These medications are often prescribed by physicians at alcohol rehab centers, detox centers, and addiction treatment centers. For instance, benzodiazepines can help manage feelings of anxiety, while anticonvulsant medications can help prevent or lower the risk for seizures.

Medical detox allows recovering addicts to overcome physical dependency on alcohol without suffering cravings and withdrawal symptoms. This allows patients to overcome addiction with minimal distractions while also undergoing counseling, therapy, and other treatments aimed at preventing relapse and promoting sobriety.

If you or someone you care about is suffering from alcohol use disorder, understand it’s never too late to get help. Call our 24/7 confidential helpline at 800-839-1686Who Answers? to learn more about nearby alcohol rehab centers that can guide you and/or your loved one along the path to improved health and lifelong sobriety.

Where do calls go?

Calls to numbers on a specific treatment center listing will be routed to that treatment center. Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) could be forwarded to SAMHSA or a verified treatment provider. Calls are routed based on availability and geographic location.

The AlcoholicsAnonymous.com helpline is free, private, and confidential. There is no obligation to enter treatment. In some cases, AlcoholicsAnonymous.com could charge a small cost per call, to a licensed treatment center, a paid advertiser, this allows AlcoholicsAnonymous.com to offer free resources and information to those in need. We do not receive any commission or fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a caller chooses.

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