An alcohol or substance use disorder is a complicated medical condition. People unfortunate enough to suffer from addiction often develop a psychological and physical dependence in the process. Some may argue that quitting drugs cold turkey can work out at times. But it often doesn’t happen that way because of the withdrawal symptoms that can occur when individuals try to stop using alcohol or drugs. 

Once a person tries to quit using drugs cold turkey, they might find the withdrawal symptoms too unbearable. This makes relapse more of a possibility. Around 40%-60% of recovering addicts suffer from relapse. When they don’t have medical professionals to guide them along the way to recovery, it’s almost impossible for individuals to overcome their addiction with sheer willpower. 

The Danger of Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey 

In some cases, recovering addicts are able to quit drugs cold turkey. Their addiction may not be severe, they might have received treatment in the past, or the substance they are addicted to may not have life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. However, this isn’t the case with all drugs. A few drugs that people should always avoid quitting cold turkey include: 

  • Heroin 
  • Alcohol
  • Prescription painkillers 
  • Benzodiazepines 

These substances may cause life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. Of course, that’s not to downplay psychological withdrawal symptoms. For example, severe depression can lead to suicide. Yet, physical withdrawal symptoms aren’t premeditated and usually unexpected. 

Around 2.5 million people in the United States visited the emergency room because of drug abuse in 2011. There were approximately 135 million emergency room visits in 2011 overall. So, over 3% of all emergency room visits were because of non-medical drug use. This shows the severity of why it’s important to quit drugs with medical guidance. 

Tapering off drugs in a medically-supervised setting can avoid emergency room visits. Before addiction treatment, recovering addicts will almost always go through a detoxification protocol. This allows patients to quit drugs without any danger. 


Before Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey

Heroin is a drug that people should avoid quitting without a medically-supervised detox. In 2019, around 14,019 people died because of it. Regular heroin use typically results in a severe psychological and physical dependence. When a person who is addicted to heroin tries to quit, they may fail to do so because of these effects. This can push them to overdo it and overdose. 

In 2011, the Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) found that heroin made up 20.6% of all drug-related emergency room visits. That accounts for 258,482 people. Quitting cold turkey can lead to an emergency room visit, or worse. Understanding what it is and its withdrawal symptoms highlight why it’s important to avoid quitting abruptly.  

What Is Heroin? 

Opioid drugs are dangerous to quit abruptly. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), heroin is a type of opioid made from multiple poppy plants. It works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain that control pain, pleasure, sleep, heart rate, and breathing. 

Misuse of prescription painkillers can lead to heroin use. Up to 6% of people that misuse prescription painkillers end up trying heroin. More alarmingly, around 80% of people who ended up using heroin started with prescription painkillers. 

Short-term effects of heroin include: 

  • Feeling warm and heavy 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Lack of brain function 
  • Feeling very itchy 

Long-term effects of heroin are: 

  • Insomnia 
  • Abscesses
  • Collapsed veins 
  • Heart infection
  • Damaged nose tissue 
  • Kidney and liver disease 
  • Lung complications 
  • Mental illnesses 
  • Irregular periods 
  • Erectile dysfunction 
  • HIV from sharing needles 

Certain long-term effects depend on how a person uses heroin. It can be used through injection, snorting or sniffing it, and smoking it. So, collapsed veins could happen from injecting it while damaged nasal tissue would result from snorting or sniffing it. 

When a person needs to visit an emergency room for a heroin overdose, they might be given Naloxone. This prescription drug binds to opioid receptors and blocks heroin effects. Since opioid receptors play a role in breathing, a heroin overdose can be life-threatening. Naloxone can help a patient start to breathe again. 

Heroin Withdrawal Symptoms

The body needs to get back to the way it once was before a person decides to stop using heroin. If they stop without letting their body do that, it can lead to withdrawal symptoms. Oftentimes, a heroin withdrawal is more uncomfortable than anything. However, losing lots of liquid from vomiting and diarrhea can lead to a severe case of dehydration. This could lead to death in some cases. 

Early and late symptoms of heroin withdrawal are: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Increased agitation 
  • Bodily aches and pains 
  • Tearing up 
  • Insomnia 
  • Excessively sweating 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Runny nose 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Goose pimples 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Dilated pupils 


While most people likely know what alcohol is, they may not realize that alcohol is a serious mind-altering drug that can cause severe withdrawal symptoms. This might be because it’s a legal substance that is widely acceptable socially speaking. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it any less dangerous. A withdrawal can become even more complicated when alcohol and other drugs are involved. 

Alcohol use misuse places an excessive burden on the United States healthcare system. Around 5 million people were admitted to the emergency department in 2014. There were 137,807,901 emergency room visits in the same year. That means almost 4% of all emergency department visits were alcohol-related. 

What Is Alcohol? 

Alcohol is two things. On one hand, it’s a fermented drink that commonly includes sugar, fruit, grain, water, and yeast. On the other hand, it’s a drug classified as a depressant. Drugs that fall into the depressant classification slow down the body’s systems. In particular, alcohol affects the central nervous system (CNS). 

Depressants, like alcohol, make a person feel relaxed. But constant alcohol abuse and binge drinking can lead to an alcohol use disorder. When a person suffers from alcoholism, it makes withdrawal symptoms very severe. In this case, they will need to seek medical help to detox safely. 

Short-term alcohol effects are: 

  • Feeling dizzy 
  • Blacking out 
  • Impaired speech
  • Heightened mood 
  • Trouble urinating 
  • Reckless behavior 
  • Lack of motor coordination 
  • Lower heartbeat, breathing, and blood pressure 

Long-term alcohol effects include: 

  • Stroke 
  • Cancer 
  • Liver diseases 
  • Death from alcohol poisoning
  • Permanent brain and nerve damage 
  • Mental illnesses 
  • Malnutrition 
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome 
  • Brain disorders 

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms 

Those suffering from an alcohol use disorder can have mild to serious withdrawal symptoms. It’s better to seek help instead of guessing whether or not you’ll have a mild or severe withdrawal. Just like heroin, people can die from excessive fluid loss through vomiting and diarrhea. 

Mild and severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Mental illnesses 
  • Shakiness 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Confusion 
  • Racing heart 
  • High blood pressure 
  • Flu-like symptoms 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Seizures 
  • Hallucinations
  • Delusions 
Consider a Medical Detox Before Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey

Severe withdrawal symptoms are known as delirium tremens (DTs) depending on how long ago a person had their last drink. DTs start anywhere from two to three days. A severe withdrawal can start anywhere from a few hours to a day. As of 2017, one in eight Americans suffers from an alcohol use disorder. Withdrawal symptoms are common but are treatable with the right help. 

Prescription Painkillers  

Prescription painkillers are legal when used correctly. But people with an addiction or without one can still experience withdrawal symptoms. Despite being legal, they’re very strong and can lead to a dependence. The more severe a dependence is, the more severe withdrawal symptoms are. 

What Are Prescription Painkillers? 

A painkiller can be Advil. But severe or chronic pain may need a prescription painkiller that is an opioid. Prescription opioids function similarly to heroin in the way it binds to opioid receptors. 

Examples of prescription painkillers are:

Prescription Painkiller Withdrawal Symptoms 

Since both heroin and prescription painkillers are both opioids, they have similar withdrawal symptoms. Again these include: 

  • Enlarged pupils 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Goose pimples 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Runny nose 
  • Drowsiness 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Insomnia 
  • Tearing up 
  • Aches and pains 
  • Agitation 
  • Mental illness 


Quitting benzodiazepines, or benzos for short, shouldn’t be attempted alone. While quitting drugs cold turkey isn’t a good idea in general, it’s an especially bad idea when it comes to benzos. They’re very addictive, even when prescribed by a doctor.  

What Are Benzodiazepines? 

Benzos are a class of drug that affects the brain’s GABA levels. Doctors might prescribe them in severe cases of anxiety, insomnia, muscle spasms, and seizures. Types of benzos are: 

Sleep aids and z-aids as a whole can be dangerous to quit without medical supervision. However, the drugs listed above are particularly dangerous. The threat becomes more dangerous when a person has an anxiety disorder and tries to quit quickly just because they feel better. 

Benzodiazepine Withdrawal Symptoms 

Psychological withdrawal symptoms can be just as dangerous as physical withdrawal symptoms at times. This is especially true for benzos. A benzo withdrawal may start a day after the last dose and continue for two weeks. However, cases vary and they could last for longer.  

Examples of benzo withdrawal symptoms include: 

  • Seizures 
  • Sleep disturbance 
  • Increased anxiety 
  • Panic attacks 
  • Heart palpitations 
  • Body aches and pains 
  • Muscle stiffness 
  • Increased irritability 
  • Psychotic breaks 

Consider a Medical Detox Before Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey

A medical detox is a safe, supervised process. Patients going through a detox protocol at a detox center will get rid of all the toxins and traces left behind by substance abuse. Medical professionals will monitor patients the entire time to make sure they are physically and mentally safe. 

Doctors at a detox center may prescribe the following medications to help: 

  • Naltrexone 
  • Disulfiram
  • Methadone 
  • Buprenorphine 
  • Suboxone 

Simultaneously, doctors may prescribe medications to help with the psychological dependence aspect behind withdrawal. One of the most important features of a medical detox is the constant support patients get. 

To say withdrawal is difficult would be an understatement. Detox centers provide 24/7 support and an extended family. Having someone there when suffering from withdrawal symptoms can give people the motivation to see it through. 

Contact Us Before Quitting Drugs Cold Turkey 

Quitting drugs cold turkey is more than a bad idea to attempt alone. It’s life-threatening and dangerous at the least. If you or a loved one wants to stop using drugs and alcohol but can’t, contact us beforehand. We can provide the resources needed to overcome addiction in a safe environment.