Is It Safe to Quit Drinking Cold Turkey?
Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Addiction
The long-term effects of an alcohol use disorder are undeniable. This addiction can affect every aspect of a person’s life, including:
- Decreased mental health and worsening symptoms of pre-existing disorders such as depression
- Increased risk of cancer, diabetes, heart problems, liver problems, and fertility issues
- Cognitive impairment
- Legal problems due to arrests for alcohol-related behaviors such as drunk driving
- Financial problems due to the money spent buying alcohol
- Job loss due to poor performance or drinking on the job
- Problems maintaining relationships with friends and family
With so much at stake, it might seem like the best thing for someone who is addicted to alcohol would be to quit drinking immediately. However, it’s important to recognize that going through alcohol withdrawal without access to the appropriate medical care can be dangerous.
Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal occurs because a person’s body and brain have become dependent on the substance to function normally. The time it takes for withdrawal symptoms to appear will vary, but people may start experiencing symptoms as soon as 8 hours after their last drink.
About half of people with an alcohol use disorder will experience withdrawal symptoms when they quit drinking, but the severity of symptoms can vary depending on factors such as age, overall health, and whether a person was abusing other drugs along with alcohol. Common symptoms a person may experience when going through alcohol withdrawal include:
- Shaky hands
- Loss of appetite
These types of withdrawal symptoms are best managed with supportive care that includes healthy foods, plenty of fluids, and a quiet environment with soft lighting. The symptoms of alcohol withdrawal typically peak between 24 and 72 hours after the process begins, then steadily decrease as the body and brain adjust to sobriety.
When Withdrawal Is Dangerous
For most people, the symptoms of alcohol withdrawal are merely uncomfortable and do not pose any serious risk. However, some people experience a potentially deadly form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (DTs). Some nicknames you may have heard that describe this type of condition include the shakes, the horrors, seeing pink elephants, barrel fever, or quart mania.
Experts estimate that about 3-5% of people with alcohol use disorders are at risk of developing DTs during the withdrawal process. Those who have been abusing alcohol for 10 years or more have the highest risk, but it is possible for those who have been drinking heavily for just a few months to experience the condition. Illness, injury, or infection can increase a person’s risk of DTs regardless of their overall alcohol consumption.
Delirium tremens results in added withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Formication (the feeling that tiny insects are crawling on your skin or just underneath it)
- Severe confusion
- Loss of consciousness
The symptoms of DTs don’t appear immediately. A person will experience mild alcohol withdrawal symptoms first, with DTs symptoms typically appearing 12 to 48 hours after their last drink. In some cases, however, DTs symptoms may not appear until 7 to 10 days after the last drink.
DTs can be life-threatening. A person who is at risk for delirium tremens should not attempt to quit alcohol cold turkey without medical supervision. A medical detox is necessary to monitor their vital signs and provide treatment such as intravenous fluids and sedative medications. At this time, tests can also be done to determine if a person needs to be treated for related problems such as electrolyte abnormalities, pancreatitis, and alcoholic hepatitis.
Evidence-Based Care Increases the Odds of a Successful Recovery
Addiction is not caused by a lack of willpower. It is a complex illness with both biological and environmental triggers. Even when a person fully understands the harm their behavior is causing, it can be incredibly difficult to begin their recovery journey due to the cravings that occur when the body is detoxing.
Seeking evidence-based care from experienced addiction professionals increases a person’s chance of a lasting recovery. At Waypoint Recovery Center, we provide a full continuum of care for men and women struggling with alcohol use disorders. Clients at our South Carolina residential addiction treatment center begin their journey with a medical detox, followed by intensive individual, group, and family therapy that focuses on building the foundation for a lasting recovery. Various holistic support services may also be recommended in order to promote a wellness-focused lifestyle.
After graduating from residential treatment, our clients can access an intensive outpatient program, continuing care management, and alumni services that help support the transition back to independent living. Our goal is to connect our clients with the resources they need to face the future with confidence. Contact us today to learn more.