This past week the entertainment world mourned the loss of HBO star Nelsan Ellis. On July 8th Ellis, 38 died of what we now are told was heart failure stemming from his attempt to quit alcohol cold turkey. In general, there are many myths surrounding addiction and recovery, the “cold turkey” myth is the biggest one. Addiction is all consuming, and contrary to popular belief it is not something you can overcome by sheer will and internal fortitude; besides the emotional and psychological effects your body is put under a tremendous amount of duress when you try the cold turkey method. Alcohol, is a widely known depressant, and our bodies try to overcome this state by increasing the production of feel good hormones such as serotonin, epinephrine and dopamine; when you go on the cold turkey plan your body continues to produce these hormones which in turn can cause, seizures, abnormal heart rates, gastric bleeding and delirium. In fact, seizures and gastric bleeding are two of the leading causes of death in those who try to overcome their alcoholism by going cold turkey.
Let’s say you can overcome the physiological hardship of stopping suddenly, you have only cured the symptom of your alcoholism and not the cause. Medical practitioners strongly suggest joining some sort of twelve step program or enter into a detox facility which will provide a more comprehensive and sustainable treatment. The risk for relapse among those who stop cold turkey is higher than those who enter a program. In fact many who join a program or enter a detox facility have already tried to stop on their own and failed. A properly structured and supervised detox program will address not only the primary symptoms of alcoholism but help to identify the root cause of your addiction.
While these arguments should be enough to persuade anyone going cold turkey is at best an effort in futility and at worst deadly, people will still try to kick their drinking problem on their own. Why? Shame. They are ashamed of their addiction and want to quietly eradicate it from their life no fuss, no muss and with no one the wiser. The social stigma attached to alcoholism and addiction is deadly, and until our attitudes change alcoholics will continue endangering their lives by quiting cold turkey.
If you or any one you love is an alcoholic please talk to a qualified professional about your options for detox and recovery. You can’t do it alone, and no one expects you to.