If you or your loved one struggles with alcohol addiction, you may feel at your wit’s end. You want desperately to stop drinking but aren’t sure the best way to go about it. And that’s okay; you are not alone. Most people who struggle with a form of alcoholism don’t know how to stop drinking safely. As a result, one of the most common mistakes people make is attempting to quit drinking cold turkey.

black and white photo of a stop sign.

Millions of People Each Year Fight Alcohol Addiction and Substance Abuse

What is Alcohol Use Disorder?

It shouldn’t come as a surprise when we tell you that Americans love to drink alcohol. 

Before the pandemic hit in 2020, over 14 million men, women, and children reported struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Despite knowing the dangers of alcohol abuse, excessive alcohol consumption has grown exponentially in the last few years.

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is a substance use disorder (SUD). 

AUD is a chronic disease that attacks a person’s central nervous system. Most addictions, like alcoholism, are defined by an impaired ability to control an individual’s impulses, despite adverse social, financial, professional, and medical consequences. 

How Much is Too Much?

When determining whether or not an individual struggles with alcohol addiction medical professionals will consider some key factors. 

First, they will look at how much alcohol an individual consumes regularly. Then, they will consider how an individual reacts when they cannot access alcohol.

According to professional medical advice, an adult woman should consume no more than one to two alcoholic beverages per day, and no more than eight standard drinks over seven days. Meanwhile, adult men should consume no more than three standard drinks per day and ten drinks over the week. 

Generally, standard drink sizes include:

  • One five fluid ounce glass of wine
  • A twelve fluid ounce beer
  • Eight to nine ounces of malt liquor 
  • or One and a half ounces of distilled spirits

However, individuals who have become alcohol dependent typically consume large amounts of alcohol, far above this recommended intake. 

Stages of Alcoholism

In most cases of alcohol abuse, individuals are drinking to try and escape reality, either of current problems or past traumas. For some individuals, alcohol misuse begins as a means to have fun. But for others, alcohol abuse stems from more extensive physical and mental health issues.

Those who abuse alcohol may progress through several stages:

  • Occasional alcohol misuse and binge drinking
  • Increased regular drinking
  • Excessive drinking (problem drinking)
  • Chronic alcohol dependence

Some people may develop an alcohol use disorder quickly, while others may develop alcohol abuse patterns over time. 

Is it Safe to Quit Alcohol Cold Turkey?

Unfortunately, most people experiencing alcohol addiction try and quit without any help. They assume they can go it alone and that quitting cold turkey is the best way. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

But is it safe to quit drinking cold turkey? It depends. How much, how often, and how long you’ve been drinking, the presence of co-occurring disorders, and your physical health will determine how severe your withdrawal will be.

Withdrawal Can Have Fatal Complications

Abruptly quitting after long-term or heavy drinking can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. Some of these symptoms can even be life-threatening. When you remove alcohol from your body once it has become reliant on it, your central nervous system has a hard time adapting and you can develop seizures or heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) which can be deadly.

Fatal complications are not common, but they do happen. Quitting cold turkey might work for some people, but is it worth the risk when better alternatives exist?

Relapse is Almost Guaranteed

Simply put, withdrawal is extremely difficult both physically and psychologically. To take the edge off and ease the symptoms of sudden alcohol cessation, most people end up drinking again. Many times, they end up drinking too much, get back into a pattern of consistent drinking, and feel like they failed. And the cycle continues.

dark end of a hallway with a red cone that is lit.

Attempting to Quit Alcohol Abuse Cold Turkey Can Lead to Severe Complications

The reasons why a person may choose to avoid professional help when struggling with an alcohol use disorder vary. Some individuals may feel embarrassed about their condition while others genuinely think that undergoing the withdrawal process on their own is the best way to fully heal. And many, quite frankly, are just too stubborn to accept help. 

If you want to reduce severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms and have a better chance of beating addiction, detoxing under medical supervision is key.

Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Not everyone will go through unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when they stop drinking. If you only drink occasionally, and one day decide you don’t want to drink anymore, you’ll be perfectly fine. But if you drink regularly you’re likely to experience some form of withdrawal if you abruptly stop. Long-term alcohol abuse almost always results in alcohol withdrawal.

The severity and the symptoms of withdrawal will vary from person to person depending on how much, how often, and how long they’ve been drinking; the presence of co-occurring disorders; and individual body factors such as physical size, metabolism rate, physical health, nutrition, etc.

Typical alcohol withdrawal symptoms can include:

  • Sweating 
  • Headaches
  • Increased anxiety 
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Confusion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression 
  • Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
  • Increased lethargy 
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting 
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Shaking (tremors) in the hands
  • Nightmares

A heavy drinker or one who has been drinking for a long period of time is almost guaranteed to be affected by alcohol withdrawal. Of course, each person experiences alcohol addiction and the detox process differently, irrespective of what the books say. Don’t ever assume how you will or won’t experience withdrawal. It’s great to be informed and prepared, but the most effective way to quit is to do it with help.

The Dangers of Quitting Alcohol Cold Turkey

When a person experiences alcohol withdrawal symptoms, they are said to have alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS). AWS can be mild to severe, and can even result in death.

Heavy drinkers have become accustomed to having alcohol in their system. Their body depends on it, much as it depends on water and air to function. When they abruptly stop consuming alcohol, the central nervous system doesn’t know how to properly respond.

As the brain tries to signal for help to fill the void, insatiable cravings consume you. Physical symptoms begin within hours, though sometimes it can be several days later. The most severe of which is delirium tremens (DT), or Alcohol Withdrawal Delirium (AWD).

Signs and symptoms of Delirium Tremens include:

  • extreme agitation
  • profound confusion
  • excessive sweating
  • increased heart rate and breathing
  • high blood pressure
  • fever
  • seizures
  • tactile, auditory, or visual hallucinations
  • chest or stomach pains
  • severe mood swings
  • dehydration

DT/AWD affects heavy, long-term drinkers who stop drinking cold turkey. Heavy drinking is defined as 15 drinks per week for men and 8 drinks per week for women. These symptoms are not only excruciating to deal with and likely to cause an individual to resort to drinking again, but they can also be life-threatening.

When a person chooses to go to rehab to gradually stop drinking, they are at a much lower risk of experiencing serious withdrawal symptoms. And in a medical emergency, those in professional rehab centers have access to immediate medical intervention, resulting in much higher chances of surviving even the most serious complications.

woman laying on couch in discomfort holding her stomach and her head.

Severe Withdrawal Symptoms Have Very Real Dangers

Quitting alcohol cold turkey can have severe consequences. The safest way to avoid dangerous withdrawal symptoms is to quit drinking gradually with the help of a professional recovery team.

Alcohol Rehab Centers in Florida

Coming to terms with the idea that you or a family member is struggling with alcohol is only the first step towards healing. Most people will say that admitting you have a problem is the hard part. But for many, asking for help is the hardest.

Enrolling in an addiction treatment program is the best choice for a safe and complete recovery.

St. John’s Recovery Place (SJRP) is a drug and alcohol rehab center dedicated to helping people heal holistically, meaning we address your needs physically, mentally, and emotionally. Clients begin with alcohol detox and then move into inpatient care to explore a variety of traditional and alternative therapies that will help them get to the root cause of their addiction.

We understand that recovery is a lifelong journey. Our after-care services and Alumni program help our clients navigate sober life after rehab, maintain connections to their peers, and offer support long into the future. Our certified medical professionals and addiction treatment specialists guide you through the healing process and, more importantly, become like a second family to you.

front entrance of SJRP inpatient rehab in crescent city florida.

St. John’s Recovery Place, a Drug and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center in Crescent City, Florida

For many people, quitting drinking may sound like an overwhelming and scary task. Others may believe they can stop abusing alcohol on their own. But no one should try to stop drinking cold turkey. With the help of SJRP, even people who struggle with heavy alcohol consumption can heal!

Learn more about St. John’s and our recovery programs on our site or call and speak with one of our care representatives! 

We would love to help you work towards long-term recovery. Call us today! 833-397-3422