The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that approximately 23.1 million people were in need of treatment in 2012 for substance addiction — a disease that the National Institute on Drug Abuse defines as a recurring disease that causes the sufferer to perpetually use a substance regardless of the ill effects it has on their health and life. Nevertheless, only 2.6 million actually received substance abuse treatment in 2012, per SAMHSA.

The Experience of Going Cold Turkey

The first step anyone must usually take in tackling addiction is to detox from the toxic substances their body is harboring, upon which point withdrawal ensues. For proponents of the cold turkey withdrawal method, there may be no limit to what the patient experiences during detox. This process can bring with it a significant amount of discomfort, depending on the severity of the addiction, the substances one is addicted to, and the care involved during the withdrawal process. For instance, someone who is detoxing from long-term alcohol dependence is likely to experience far more painful symptoms of withdrawal than someone detoxing from a recently developed addiction to Xanax. Not every substance is created equal; many inflict serious pain on the user while others cause only mild discomfort during detox.

Common withdrawal symptoms include:

  • Nausea that may or may not be accompanied by dry heaving or vomiting
  • Perspiration
  • Excessive salivation
  • Insomnia
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Mood swings
  • Depression

The cold turkey method of detox is popular among many, especially those who try to self-treat, despite its potential dangers. Simply put, this method involves cutting off all use of a substance without any weaning off process. This can be particularly dangerous for opiates, such as heroin and prescription painkillers. The terminology of “cold turkey” is thought to have stemmed from the goosebumps and chills that are initially inflicted on the detoxing patient, similar to the bird’s flesh.

Danger Ahead

There are some serious concerns involved with the cold turkey detox method that anyone considering it should be advised of. Wired Magazine notes an approximate 95 percent relapse rate for those who choose the cold turkey detox route. In addition, substance abusers who are successful at quitting cold turkey may get the impression that they can easily do it again, causing them to relapse and attempt to quit on their own time and again. The odds are not in the favor of the cold turkey quitter. The method isn’t safe and produces turbulent withdrawal symptoms for many.

Other Risks

The plot thickens when you add the concern of mental wellness to the picture, and it’s a serious problem among the substance abuse community. Helpguide attests to 53 percent of drug addicts having at least one serious mental health disorder; in addition, 37 percent of alcohol dependence sufferers struggle with one or more mental disorders too.

The withdrawal process can potentially bring a lot of anxiety, depression, and emotional turmoil. This is magnified for those also suffering from mental health issues. As a result, it’s wise to undergo detox with the assistance of professionals who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

Safer, Less Painful Alternatives

There are other options; going cold turkey isn’t the only way. The best method of detox is under the direct supervision of a medical professional. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism notes that inpatient detox produces higher completion rates than outpatient detox does. Medically assisted detoxification works best for many patients. With it, patients feel less discomfort and experience fewer psychological and mood-related symptoms that can often lead the addict back to drug and alcohol abuse.

Overall, SAMHSA reports that 67 percent of the 1.5 million patients who were discharged from treatment in 2006 had completed detox. However, Johns Hopkins Medicine reports that 65 to 80 percent of detoxification patients return to substance use within a month of leaving detox. This is why follow-up treatment is vital to patients’ long-term sobriety.

At Orlando Recovery Center, you can leave the past where it belongs and embark on the rest of your life as a clean and sober individual in recovery. Make today the day you change your life for good. Call us and speak to one of our admissions counselors about how we can get you through withdrawal and back on your feet again.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.