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Why the Cold Turkey Method Never Promotes Long Term Sobriety

Many drug addicts and alcoholics have tried the cold turkey method of quitting — the “abrupt complete cessation of the use of an addictive drug.” Where does this strange phrase come from, anyway? A man named Tom Philbin says (in Cop Speak: The Lingo of Law Enforcement and Crime) that the “term may derive from the cold, clammy feel of the skin during withdrawal, like a turkey that has been refrigerated.”

No matter where the phrase came from, it refers to the discomfort that stems from suddenly quitting something addictive. But why does this method never promote long term sobriety?


WebMD says that withdrawal “refers to the physical problems and emotions you experience if you are dependent on a substance (such as alcohol, prescription medicines, or illegal drugs) and then suddenly stop or drastically reduce your intake of the substance.” Withdrawal is different for everybody since it depends on the length and intensity of their addiction.

One of the biggest reasons why the cold turkey method doesn’t work is because of withdrawal symptoms. The scary symptoms that people face will usually turn people back to their drugs or alcohol so that they feel better.

Withdrawal symptoms range from nausea, vomiting, shakiness, sweating to confusion, hallucination, and trembling. When withdrawal symptoms become strong enough, they can actually become life-threatening.

Ween yourself into it!

It’s difficult to abruptly switch to a completely different lifestyle in ONE day. Because of withdrawal symptoms and intense cravings, it’s not easy to create a new, healthy lifestyle in such a short amount of time.

You should try weening yourself into a healthy lifestyle instead. This way, your body won’t be completely shocked when it doesn’t get what it’s used to getting! Your body (and your brain) will thank you for it.

How can I seek extra help?

According to an article from, there are three main things that you can do when the cold turkey method of quitting doesn’t work: talking to your doctor or healthcare professional, detoxing impatiently, and detoxing out-patiently.

  • Talk to a healthcare professional — since quitting drugs and alcohol is so intense, you may need to come up with a plan with your doctor for additional support. They may suggest different places for you to go through the detox process, so it’s best to find a professional that has an understanding of addiction.
  • Detoxing in-patiently — you will need to do this if you’ve been on drugs or alcohol for weeks or months. By going to a treatment facility, you will be able to get the care and supervision that you need while going through the withdrawal process. An added benefit of inpatient detox is that you will be removed from your current environment where there may be temptations.
  • Detoxing out-patiently — the article says that you should not try this method without talking to your medical professional. Your doctor may give you medications to make the transition process easier. Because this method doesn’t include going to a treatment facility, you need to be sure that you have a strong support system at home.

This article also mentions that it is important to join a support group such as Alcoholics Anonymous or go to therapy.

Instead of using the cold turkey method to combat your drug or alcohol addiction, you should be aware of why it typically doesn’t work. Withdrawal symptoms usually make people turn back to what they started. Instead, talk to your doctor about safer options that have a higher probability of leading to a long-term recovery.