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When a person is struggling with a substance use disorder, one of the most difficult steps that they must take on their journey to recovery is initial detoxification. Detoxification, or detox, is a process in which the substance that the individual is addicted to is removed from their body. Whether drugs or alcohol, addiction is as much a physical illness as it is a mental one. The body becomes dependent on the presence of the substance and when it is no longer present, a host of mental and physical side effects can emerge. Typically, this is done by going “cold turkey” or through quick detox programs, but is going cold turkey dangerous for those battling addictions?

What Does a Cold Turkey Detox Mean?

One of the most difficult tasks for an addict is to quit using a substance that they are addicted to. Whether alcohol or drugs, the body and mind become dependent on these substances to function. When it is no longer received, a host of mental and physical side effects emerge. Many addicts and their loved ones are convinced that they can get through these initial symptoms of withdrawal purely on willpower but fail to understand the severity of the risks that come along with the sudden stop. Despite this, it is common for those with addictions to attempt to quit using several times on their own before seeking professional help. When a person with an addiction abruptly stops using a substance they are addicted to, it is known as going “cold turkey,” and it can seem like a quick fix for a very serious problem. Unfortunately, this method is rarely successful, and in some cases, is extremely dangerous for addicts.

The Risks of A Cold Turkey Detox

Those who are heavy alcohol or drug users, have been addicted for a long time, or are quitting certain substances like alcohol, opiates or benzodiazepines should never attempt a cold turkey detox on their own. This is because these substances cause significant changes in the brain, and stopping quickly can result in serious physical side effects, like seizures, a change in heart rate, or even death. Additionally, mental side effects like depression, hallucinations and paranoia can make a cold-turkey detox a dangerous scenario. Before considering a cold turkey detox, those who are battling addictions should consider the following:

The Substance

Those who are considering a cold turkey detox should first consider the substance that is the subject of the addiction. Those who are battling addictions involving the following substances should always consider going cold turkey dangerous:

  • Heroin and other opioids1
  • Alcohol
  • Benzodiazepines
  • Sleep Aids
  • Sedatives/Tranquilizers
  • Prescription painkillers such as fentanyl or oxycodone

These drugs are highly addictive, and detox must include slowly tapering off the substance in a safe, medical environment. Alcohol withdrawal specifically can result in a condition known as delirium tremens. This causes tremors, shaking and confusion and leads to death in five to 25 percent of all cases.

Severity and Length of Addiction

While all substance abuse disorders are serious, the severity of the addiction along with how long the person has been addicted plays a huge role in whether a cold turkey detox is dangerous. Keep in mind that severity and the length of time a person has been struggling with addiction are not simultaneous. A person can have a severe, consuming addiction that has only lasted a few months while an individual may have a mild addiction for several years. In either case, typically those who have severe addictions or those who have been addicted for many years should consider seeking professional help instead of attempting to do a cold turkey dangerous detox on their own. The “cold turkey” approach is more suitable for those who are attempting to quit smoking cigarettes or who want to quit eating deserts, for instance. These substances, while harmful in their own regards, do not result in life-threatening withdrawal symptoms like the previously mentioned list of substances.Other side effects experienced during a cold turkey detox may include:Physical Effects of a Cold Turkey Dangerous Detox

  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sweating
  • Shaking
  • Seizures
  • Chest pains
  • Fever
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Aches and pains
  • Insomnia

Mental Effects of Cold Turkey Detox

  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Intense cravings
  • Confusion
  • Paranoia
  • Hallucinations
  • Depression

When to Seek Help During a Cold Turkey Dangerous Detox

While it is not advisable to attempt a cold turkey detox for severe or certain types of addictions, those who have milder substance use problems and wish to take this approach should be aware of when to seek help. It is also wise to enlist the help of a friend or family member to ensure safety. If the addict attempting to go cold turkey begins to experience these symptoms of withdrawal, immediately contact a medical professional and seek rehabilitation services for detox:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Violent urges/actions
  • Intense vomiting or diarrhea

Keep in mind that the symptoms of withdrawal can affect all addicts differently. While one may experience mild irritation and nausea, another may have trouble breathing or extreme hallucinations. If you or a loved one is attempting a cold turkey, dangerous rapid detox or another solution that does not involve around-the-clock medical care, adequate supervision is crucial. This can prevent the situation from turning dangerous, whether it is the result of a physical or mental withdrawal symptom.

What Is a Quick Detox?

A quick or rapid detox is designed for those with opioid addictions. Unlike a cold turkey approach, this detox takes place in a medical treatment center. Those who are interested in rapid detox are placed under anesthesia and the drugs are then flushed from their system. This approach is intended to be a pain-free and quick solution for those who are fearful about the effects of a traditional detox. Unfortunately, a standard detox can take several days, and the side effects make it an unpleasant experience. Despite this, a standard detox in a medical treatment center remains the best approach for those who are struggling with opioid addictions.

What Are the Risks of Quick or Rapid Detox?

Despite the fact that quick detoxes under anesthesia are performed within a medical setting, they are not without risks. Adverse reactions to the rapid detox are common and although rare, there are approximately one to four deaths out of every 10,000 patients2 who are administered anesthesia. Other side effects from anesthesia include brain damage, nausea, vomiting, confusion, muscle aches and pains. As the purpose of rapid detox is to eliminate the symptoms of withdrawal, the fact that many of the side effects of anesthesia are similar seems detrimental to many.Additionally, many who have undergone rapid detox report that they still experience withdrawal effects after the process is complete. It is also not the best approach for addicts who are looking for a long-term solution to overcome their addiction. Because of its ineffectiveness and the immense risks, most medical professionals (including the American Society of Addiction Medicine) do not recommend rapid detox programs for any type of addiction.

Other Forms of Detox and Detox Medications

While cold turkey, dangerous rapid detoxes and standard medically assisted detox options are the most common, there are a plethora of techniques and tactics that some may tout as a quick fix. Whether it comes in the form of a “cleanse” or requires taking homeopathic remedies, keep in mind that most of these are ineffective and may run the same risks as detoxing cold turkey or undergoing a rapid detox. In some cases, however, a medical treatment center may opt to use medications to aid the addict through the process of withdrawal as simply and pain-free as possible. Some medications that are FDA-approved for easing the symptoms of withdrawal include:

  • Acamprosate.
  • Antiadrenergic agents.
  • Antidepressants.
  • Anti-nausea medications (like Zofran).
  • Buprenorphine/Naltrexone.
  • Naltrexone.
  • Suboxone.
  • Vivitrol.

These medications may not be suitable or necessary in all cases, but they can be beneficial to the recovery process when used appropriately. If you or a loved one have concerns over the use of certain medications during detox or an inpatient treatment program, be sure to address these concerns with a doctor. The doctor will determine on a case-by-case basis after a medical evaluation is completed whether the benefits of each one outweigh any risks that may be associated with the medication.Another immense benefit of undergoing a medically assisted detox instead of a cold turkey dangerous detox and inpatient treatment program is that, in many cases, addicts suffer from underlying mental health disorders. They often turn to substance abuse in order to self-medicate. In a dual diagnosis treatment center, health care professionals aim to uncover the full picture to increase an addict’s chances of success in recovery. By evaluating patients for other health conditions or mental health concerns, these problems can be treated with medications if needed and the individual can learn how to cope without the use of alcohol or drugs.

What Is the Best Way to Detox from Drugs or Alcohol?

There are a plethora of options available, from cold turkey and rapid detoxes to cleanses and diets, but the best way to detox from a drug or alcohol addiction remains a traditional detox in a medical treatment center. This process may take several days, however, it allows the addict to wean their bodies off of the substance safely and in a controlled environment. Here, they will also be monitored to ensure that their heart rate, blood pressure and mental health remain stable throughout the process. If the addict does begin to experience serious symptoms of withdrawal beyond the usual discomfort, medical professionals are available 24/7 to provide the level of care that they need to get through the detoxification process and begin on their path to recovery.

What Is a Standard Detox Like?

A large majority of people who are struggling with addiction avoid checking into a rehab treatment center because they are afraid of the unknown. This is particularly true when it comes to the detox phase of treatment. Many times they are concerned that they will experience immense discomfort or pain and they may even wonder if this step is actually necessary for long-term sobriety. This fear and the desire to jump straight into a sober lifestyle are often what prompt addicts to pursue cold turkey, dangerous rapid detox or other options, but the detox stage is a crucial step in recovery.Detox in rehab or another medical setting can look slightly different for every patient, depending on the actual treatment center, the substance they are addicted to and the severity of their addiction. Typically, however, a standard detox will last anywhere from three to 10 days. Upon arrival, patients will be checked into the treatment center and they will be introduced to the staff members as well as the rules and the basic process of the treatment center. Shortly afterward, the addict will receive a medical evaluation, where medical staff can address all the health issues that they may be experiencing as a result of their addiction. From there, detox will begin, and medications may be prescribed as needed. Throughout the detox process, staff members will guide addicts with programs, healthy foods, therapy and activities as they become well enough to participate.

After a Medically Assisted Detox

Medically assisted detoxes are the first step of a lifelong journey to recovery from a substance use disorder. Once the detox is complete, addicts have a lot of work to do in order to achieve long-term success in sobriety. In many scenarios, a medically assisted detox takes place in a rehab treatment center. This is often done in an inpatient setting where the addict remains within the care of the treatment center for several weeks or months after detoxing. Depending on the circumstances of each case, however, it may also be possible for the addict to complete the remaining treatment in an outpatient or partial-hospitalization program.

In-Patient Treatment

In an in-patient treatment setting, the addict remains within the treatment center or is transferred to a one after completing detox. Depending on the specific addiction and its severity, the addict may remain in the program for several weeks or months after the initial detox takes place. During this time, they will complete a series of programs, including therapy, to learn how to cope with their addiction in a less controlled environment. After the program is completed, an individual will continue their path to recovery with continuing therapy sessions, outpatient programs or 12-step programs.

Outpatient Treatment

Those who have completed detox may opt to begin an outpatient treatment afterward. With this option, they will return home but visit the treatment center several times a week for treatment. This is ideal for those who have work or home obligations that make it difficult to be away for weeks or months at a time. The time commitment required will vary from one treatment center to the next; however, it will typically consist of spending at least 15 hours per week at the treatment center. Despite this, in-patient treatment programs are best for those who are newly sober and out of detox, and outpatient treatment centers are best reserved as a step down after completing an in-treatment or partial-hospitalization program.

Partial Hospitalization Programs

A partial hospitalization program is a fantastic middle-of-the-road option for addicts who have recently completed a medically assisted detox. With this option, individuals are not restricted to remaining in a rehab center all day and night. Instead, they spend their days at the program and then can return home each night. This allows them to remain on a structured schedule that aids in their recovery and enables them to interact with family on a regular basis to create a stronger support system.If you or a loved one are in need of detox to move forward and begin a path to recovery, be sure to avoid cold turkey dangerous detox programs and other quick-fix solutions. Instead, look into medically assisted detox and inpatient programs that provide adequate mental and physical support throughout the detox process. Reach out to us today to learn about your detox or treatment options.

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