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Quitting Cold Turkey: Is It a Safe Way to Stop Substance Abuse?

Addiction affects millions of people worldwide. In the US, this mental problem takes thousands of lives every year. Statistics show about 21 million Americans have at least one addiction.

Drug use is prevalent among teens in the US. According to the Monitoring the Future 2020 survey by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), 34.5 percent of 12th graders, 30.7 percent of 10th graders, and 16.6 percent of eighth-graders are nicotine vaping in the past year. Additionally, 35 percent of 12th graders, 28 percent of 10th graders, and 11.4 percent of eighth-graders use marijuana in the past year.

Substance addiction, if not treated, can result in short-term and long-term health problems. The effects can vary based on the substance a person uses. Several interventions can help an individual recover, from taking medications to taking drug rehabilitation programs.

One approach many patients take to stop their addiction is quitting cold turkey. But is it a safe way to quit?

How Does One Quit Cold Turkey?

Quitting an old habit is never easy for everyone, especially if someone has been dependent on the substance they’re trying to stop using. When someone decides to quit cold turkey, the person stops using or taking the substance all at once. This is the complete opposite of quitting gradually where the person decreases the use of the substance until they’re ready to quit.

A person who quits cold turkey can experience withdrawal symptoms, particularly those who have become dependent on the substance. Withdrawal has two types: acute withdrawal and protracted withdrawal.

According to the American Addiction Centers (AAC), acute withdrawal symptoms can cause various physical health problems, from mild flu-like symptoms to severe seizure-like episodes. Symptoms vary depending on the substance, but they are generally the opposite effects of the substance.

Protracted withdrawal symptoms can cause mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, or both. Long-term substance abuse can affect a person’s brain in different ways. Over time, the brain loses its ability to produce chemicals that make a user feeling high. They tend to increase the amount of substance they used to achieve the same feeling.

If you’re planning to quit substance use suddenly and abruptly, make sure to have the right support. A study shows that quitting smoking cold turkey with the right support is more effective than cutting it down gradually. You can get support from your family members, friends, and medical professionals.

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Quitting an Addiction Safely and Effectively

Only 10 percent of people with addiction receive treatment in the US. There are treatments available for people who have an addictive disorder. It is crucial that you first acknowledge that substance use has affected your life negatively.

Several factors can help you find the right treatment option, including the type of substance, length and severity of use, and its effects. Your doctor might also recommend additional treatments to treat other physical complications caused by long-term substance abuse.

Additionally, the Harvard Medical School recommends five action steps to help you quit an addiction.

1. Setting a quit date — researchers think it might help you quit successfully if you choose a meaningful date, such as a birthday, anniversary, or any special event.

2. Changing your environment — staying away from things that remind you of your addiction can be helpful when you’re trying to quit.

3. Distracting yourself — try engaging in other activities whenever you have the urge to use the substance. Going for a walk or talking to other people until your cravings is gone.

4. Reviewing your past attempts of quitting — assessing your previous attempts can help you create a better and more effective plan. It allows you to see what works and what triggers your relapse so you can make the necessary adjustments.

5. Creating a support network — having the right support greatly contributes to the success of your quitting. Your family and friends are a great source of support. Inform them you’re quitting, and they’ll be happy to support you all the way.

Substance abuse and other forms of addiction have long-term effects on someone’s quality of life. It takes determination and courage for a person to quit something that has been a part of their lives for many years. Recovery won’t be easy for everyone. Having the right support and supervision is essential for safe and effective recovery.

Quitting cold turkey may work for some people, but it might not be as effective for others. Doing it can put your health at risk and might lead to other complications.

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