" 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.
Use in popular culture
- In the 1955 film The Man With The Golden Arm former card shark, heroin addict and reformed convict Frankie "Dealer" Machine (Frank Sinatra) is slipping back into old habits, struggling to kick his heroin addiction once and for all and quits in his own words "cold turkey", suffering the tortures of heroin abstinence including muscle cramps, chills, tremors and profuse sweating in a legendary performance.
- In the 1975 film, French Connection II, Jimmy "Popeye" Doyle (Gene Hackman) is kidnapped by the antagonist Alain Charnier (Fernando Rey) and repeatedly injected with heroin. An addicted Doyle is freed and he quits cold turkey. In a haunting sequence, he goes through heroin withdrawal symptoms that include muscle cramps, chills, tremors and profuse sweating.
- John Lennon and The Plastic Ono Band made the term famous with the song "Cold Turkey," which was about Lennon breaking his addiction to heroin.
- In the 1996 film Trainspotting a heroin addict is held in his room by his parents making him go cold turkey rather than going to the rehabilitation clinic.
- In the movie Christiane F. - Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo there are many frightening cold turkey scenes.
- In the book The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King, the character Eddie Dean and his brother talk about going "cool turkey" before going cold turkey, where they try to take less drugs than usual instead of completely quitting.
- In the book Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts, the author (Roberts himself) describes in detail his own harrowing experience of going cold turkey off heroin in Mumbai, India.
- In the book Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer, the character, Jacob, thinks he needs to quit his love for the leading lady role, Bella and is quoted to needing to "...quit her cold turkey, before she killed me, like she was going to kill him."
- In Norman Lear's 1971 movie Cold Turkey, Dick Van Dyke tries to convince an entire town to give up smoking for one month.