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 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 Mental Health Counseling during Residential Treatment for Alcoholics

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.

How Our Helpline Works

For those seeking addiction treatment for themselves or a loved one, the AlcoholicsAnonymous.com helpline is a private and convenient solution.

Calls to any general helpline (non-facility specific 1-8XX numbers) for your visit will be answered by American Addiction Centers (AAC).

We are standing by 24/7 to discuss your treatment options. Our representatives work solely for AAC and will discuss whether an AAC facility may be an option for you. Our helpline is offered at no cost to you and with no obligation to enter into treatment. Neither AlcoholicsAnonymous.com nor AAC receives any commission or other fee that is dependent upon which treatment provider a visitor may ultimately choose.

For more information on AAC’s commitment to ethical marketing and treatment practices, or to learn more about how to select a treatment provider, visit our About AAC page. If you wish to explore additional treatment options or connect with a specific rehab center, you can browse top-rated listings or visit SAMHSA.