11 Minutes

Edited & medically reviewed by THE BALANCE Team
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To someone who has never experienced drug withdrawal, the term “cold turkey” may seem comical and even strange, and for those who have, it can summon up horrific memories of pain, anguish, and despair.

Cold turkey” pertains to someone who has a reliance on a drug and abruptly stops using it, resulting in withdrawal symptoms; it is opposed to gradually weaning off doses over time, or the use of substitute medication to manage decreased doses and reduce the severity of withdrawal.

The phrase “cold turkey” comes from the goosebumps (piloerection) and chilly, sweaty skin that can occur during opioid withdrawal, mimicking that of a plucked and chilled turkey. Even though the term “cold turkey” was originally used to define the unaided drawdown from heroin and other opioids, it has since come to be used to characterise the unassisted withdrawal from any substance of abuse – and in more general usage, “going cold turkey” can refer to the abrupt cessation of any activity, not just drug abuse.

Opioid cessation symptoms have been witnessed since the classical era – the addictive characteristics of opium have been reported in the past 2,000 years – and has been researched medically since at least the nineteenth century, with practitioners in Victorian Britain or elsewhere associating the symptoms that give cold turkey its name with the condition. Meanwhile, alcoholic withdrawal has been seen for ages, and the risks connected with it have been recognized and recorded by doctors for generations. With the rise in popularity of other pleasurable chemicals around the world, symptoms of withdrawal have been documented, and withdrawal as a phenomenon is now well acknowledged and reported in the medical literature.

The term “cold turkey” is thought to have originated in 1877 with a tale in the famous British satirical magazine Judy where slices of cold turkey are used as a narrative device; one hypothesis is that the “cold turkey treatment” actually started to be used as a saying for slashing someone off or disowning them, and over the years evolved into a way to describe cutting something off.

It is unclear if this usage of the term evolved independently, caused by the turkey-like symptomatology of opiate withdrawal, and whether it was linked to the wider use of the phrase in other settings, as early as 1920, in a feature article relating to opiate abuse/addiction particularly.

The withdrawal symptoms that prompt the analogy to cold turkey skin — Goosebumps and chilly, sweaty skin – are not hazardous in and of itself. However, the overall withdrawal process and experience can be exceedingly dangerous, even lethal. The withdrawal syndrome from some substances, particularly benzodiazepines and alcohol, can be fatal: seizures, strokes, and heart attacks are all possible side effects of benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal. While withdrawal from other drugs may not carry the same direct risk, it can still be dangerous to one’s life: withdrawals can be so uncomfortable, painful, and depressing that many people who are experiencing them resort to self-harm or even death as a means of escaping them.

Meanwhile, withdrawal can raise the risk of overdose: some people who are going through withdrawal may slip back to get rid of their symptoms of withdrawal, but their tolerance to their drug of choice may have decreased, presumably significantly, during their sobriety, and the doses to which they were earlier attuned may now be too much for their bodies to process, resulting in overdose – which can be potentially lethal.

Others will be unable to take any medicines that can help with withdrawal for one reason or another and may be forced to go cold turkey even though they would prefer to have their symptoms alleviated pharmaceutically.

In the meantime, many drug users go into withdrawal unwillingly – for instance, if the source of their drug of choice is disrupted, or if they are transferred from their usual environment against their will (– for example, if they are arrested, detained, hospitalised, or relocated by members of the family) – and may have no alternative but to go cold turkey if they are unable to obtain other resources of the drug to which they are addicted, or medications.

Most people prefer to go into withdrawal since they want to get rid of their addictions as quickly as possible and believe that stopping taking their drugs of abuse totally will be easier than getting through a tapering period. Other addicts may choose to keep their habits hidden, even from professionals, and would rather do it alone than seek therapy.

The most serious hazards of quitting cold turkey are those that can lead to death: the symptoms of benzodiazepine and alcohol withdrawal, which can include stroke, seizures, and heart attack, and can result in death; and the possibility of overdosing linked with relapse after a period of withdrawal. Withdrawal’s discomfort might lead to self-harm and suicidal ideation.

Anxiety and depression are frequent withdrawal symptoms linked with the bulk of abused substances, and if not treated, they can increase the risk of suicide.

Such withdrawal syndromes include psychosis and paranoia, which can lead to self-harm and injury to others.

Individuals experiencing involuntary withdrawal may go to extraordinary lengths to obtain their drugs of abuse in order to avoid symptoms of withdrawal; this may include criminal behaviour, such as prostitution and theft, as well as acts of violence, all of which can have long-term adverse implications for themselves and others.

Symptoms of Quitting Cold Turkey

While the clamminess and goosebumps that give the condition its identity are most commonly associated with opiate withdrawal, “going cold turkey” from any drug of abuse can result in a wide range of symptoms of withdrawal that differ from one drug to the next and from one person withdrawing to the next.

Since withdrawal syndrome poses health – and in certain cases, life – risk, it is critical that you do not try withdrawal without medical assistance. Whether or not medicine is recommended to alleviate some of your symptoms of withdrawal, having your withdrawal symptoms carefully watched by health professionals can be the matter of life and death.

Timelines for Safe Detox and Withdrawal

The duration of withdrawal – and hence the period of time an addict must spend in detox – is determined by several factors, such as the drug abused, the method of usage, the doses are taken, the rate of use, and the addict’s biology and personality. Withdrawal symptoms can continue anywhere from just a few days to several weeks, and some people can develop post-acute, or prolonged, withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which may last months and years.

Another reason why quitting on one’s own should never be tried is that what defines a “safe” duration of detoxification and withdrawal should be decided by a medical practitioner.

Withdrawal might be a challenging experience, but it is well worth it in the long run: a life free of substance abuse is far better than addiction. During withdrawal, you may use a variety of coping mechanisms; consult a doctor and/or an addiction professional about how to get through it.

A number of institutions now provide addiction recovery treatments, including managed detox and withdrawal, across the UK. Yet, not all facilities will be right for you: if you are considering addiction treatment, speak with an addiction professional about your condition and individual needs, as well as information about facilities that may be beneficial for you.

Outpatient Services vs. Residential Treatment Centres

Inpatient and outpatient treatment options are frequently available in residential rehabilitation (rehab) facilities. Which is best for you will be determined by your personal preferences and needs.

Treatment Programme For Inpatients

Premium high-end Inpatient treatment programs take place in a safe, private, tranquil, and pleasant setting where you may focus on your recovery and healing. Detox/withdrawal and counselling phases are commonly included in treatment programmes that last 1 to 3 months, with extra aspects like nutrition and fitness plans and follow-up plans. Clients’ safety and convenience are ensured by medical and mental health professionals on-site.

Outpatient Treatment Programme

If you would be unable to devote the time needed for an inpatient programme, you may consider premium upscale outpatient treatment, which involves visiting the centre for appointments and maintaining communication by phone and email, as well as participating in other components of the programme on your own time. Outpatient treatment, on the other hand, does not isolate you from your drug of abuse and addiction environment, increasing your chances of recurrence and treatment failure.

You will have the security and comfort of realizing that medical specialists are on hand at all times if you receive treatment as an inpatient; you will also be unable to acquire drugs of abuse and hence will not relapse. You can concentrate only on your recovery, participating in therapy to help you prepare for a life free of addiction, and receiving support from other patients who understand what it’s like to be addicted.

Confidentiality and Private Rehabilitation

Due to the stigma attached to addiction, it is critical that addicts in rehabilitation feel comfortable with the fact that their condition will not be made public. As a consequence, private rehabs place a premium on discretion and anonymity. If you’re worried about privacy, talk to an addiction expert about how rehabs keep client information private. Reach us right away. 

Treatment Near Home vs. Different City or County

Many people who need addiction treatment choose facilities that are closer to their homes so that they may feel at ease thinking that their loved ones are nearby and that visiting them will be easier. Some, on the other hand, desire to put as much space as possible among themselves and their substance-abusing environment, so they choose institutions that are far away from their homes. Your choice of treatment location will be mostly determined by your personal preferences.

Before choosing a treatment centre, consider the following questions: 

  • What should I expect from rehab?
  • How long do you think I’ll be in inpatient treatment?
  • What is the atmosphere like at the facility?
  • What types of therapies are available?
  • What are your financing options?
  • Is it appropriate for my family to be part of my treatment?
  • What is the strategy for aftercare?
  • What is your likelihood of success?

The Importance of Counselling in Treatment and Rehabilitation

Addiction treatment revolves around counselling and therapy, which uncover and address the real problem of addiction while also training the addict for life following treatment. Both in and after rehabilitation, a range of different counselling and therapy approaches are available; if you are considering treatment, inquire about the therapy alternatives available to you.

Addiction Support For Drug Addicts

It’s fair that you want to help someone you know who is suffering from addiction – but approaching them without first seeking counsel might cause far more harm than good. Consult an addiction expert about the best ways to assist an addict, yet always remember to put your own and others’ safety first.

Recovery does not finish when you leave a rehab facility; in fact, your toughest job will just begin after the Rehab in many instances. It’s important to realize that you must work on your recovery each day, utilising the tools and tactics you learned in treatment. However, life after addiction will be immensely happier and healthier than before, and the effort required to maintain recovery will be well worth it.

Maintaining Sobriety

If you’ve achieved sobriety and abstinence, you’ve already made a huge difference in your life; now it’s time to prove you can keep it up. It’s a constant struggle to stay clean, but you wouldn’t have to fight it alone. Joining self-help group sessions and counselling can assist you in maintaining your recovery; talk to an addiction professional about local support alternatives.

It’s critical to avoid relapse while cold turkey detoxing, not only to evaluate the achievement of the detox but also to avoid the possibility of a lethal overdose. A variety of relapse prevention strategies and methods will be learnt during therapy in a treatment centre, but if you want to go through withdrawal outside of inpatient rehab (for instance, as an outpatient), seek medical attention or talk to an addiction specialist about how to avoid relapse while going through withdrawal.

The dangers of quitting cold turkey on your own can be fatal. The symptoms of withdrawal can be severe and the likelihood of falling back to addiction due to the unpleasant symptoms of withdrawal is quite high. Medically supervised detox at an upscale luxury treatment centre in Manchester, London and other major cities of the UK is the best option for you or your loved one struggling with addiction.

Premium Luxury Rehab centres for drug and alcohol abuse have all the comforts of a 5-star resort and your stay in one of these will feel like a vacation at an elite class restaurant. Apart from the conventional therapies that are also offered at regular rehab centres, high-end luxury centres offer complementary and alternative treatments like acupuncture, equine therapy, spa and massage treatments and recreational therapy. The aim of these is to adopt a holistic approach of healing the body, mind and spirit and focus on the root causes of the addiction in the first place. These can further include a detailed evaluation of the client’s brought up, personality, family background, academic and socioeconomic status.

 One of the reasons for the high success rates of detoxing at high-end luxury inpatient centres is that they provide prompt and precise aftercare and follow-up plans, ensuring long-term abstinence and sobriety. You will be in constant contact with your team even after the rehab programme to avoid relapse and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

If you or a loved one is struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse, contact us right away and chose a recovery programme as per your needs.



The Balance RehabClinic is a leading provider of luxury addiction and mental health treatment for affluent individuals and their families, offering a blend of innovative science and holistic methods with unparalleled individualised care.


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