Cold turkey

Cold turkey

"Cold turkey" is a slang expression describing the actions of a person who gives up a habit or addiction all at once. That is, rather than gradually easing the process through reduction or by using replacement medication. Its supposed advantage is that by not actively using supplemental methods, the person avoids thinking about the habit and its temptation, and avoids further feeding the chemical addiction. Supposed disadvantages related to the abuse of drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and heroin is unbearable withdrawal symptoms from the total absence, causing tremendous stress on heart and blood vessels and in a worst case scenario possible stroke or heart failure.

The etymology derives from the phrase talk turkey, in which someone deals matter-of-factly with a subject. Some, however, believe the derivation is from the comparison of a cold turkey carcass and the state of a withdrawing addict — most notably, the cold sweats and goose bumps. It is often preceded by the verb "to go," as in "going cold turkey." Yet another suggestion of origin is that cold turkey is a dish that needs little or no preparation. "To quit like cold turkey" would be to quit in the same way a cold turkey is served, instantly just as you are without preparation.

Sudden withdrawal from drugs such as benzodiazepines, barbiturates and various opiates can be extremely dangerous, leading to potentially fatal seizures. In long-time alcoholics, going cold turkey can cause life-threatening delirium tremens and thus is not an appropriate method for breaking an alcohol addiction.

In the case of habits related to mild drugs, going cold turkey may be unpleasant, but most probably not life-threateningly dangerous. Terminating prescribed medication, however, may be dangerous.

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