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Is Quitting Cold Turkey the Right Choice?

Is “quitting cold turkey” the best choice for a bad habit?

If you have an addiction, you may wonder about the effectiveness of this sudden change to your routine.

Is it better to wean yourself off your addiction with support, or immediately stop?

If you want to build more good habits and are curious about the effectiveness or dangers of, “going cold turkey” getting rid of the bad ones, then this article is for you…

When is Cold Turkey a Good Option?

Quitting cold turkey is a term that is often associated with smoking cessation. But it is not limited to that. It means any habit that you try to quit by willpower alone.

Most people try to quit their bad habits this way – and most people fail.

This type of change is the most popular choice and is usually the one that has the highest failure rate. But is there a time when the cold turkey technique can be the “right” thing?

The answer to that is… sometimes.

The first thing that is important is to understand is the type of addiction.

There are mental and physical addictions. For those with physical addictions, cold turkey is will result in a higher degree of failure. But with a purely “mental” addiction, like online gaming, sometimes a modified cold turkey solution can be the thing to do.

What is Modified Cold Turkey?

“Modified cold turkey” is when you get support, help or assistance from others.

For mental addictions it CAN work to just “stop” rather than set up a process to “wean” off of the addiction. But doing this without the support of friends or a step-by-step strategy means you’ll probably fail.

So if you want to immediately stop a habit, then it pays to get help and assistance from others.

4 Reasons Why Cold Turkey Doesn’t Work

Generally speaking, the cold turkey solution doesn’t work with most bad habits.

Here are four reasons why:

#1 Cold Turkey isn’t Effective

It is estimated that less than 5% of people who try to go cold turkey will succeed in the attempt. In fact, it’s less effective than using a medical placebo. This means that just thinking that you are getting physical outside help is more effective for beating bad habits than going it alone.

The “cold turkey quitter” may bull their way through a habit change, but without a regimented approach it is almost impossible to turn it into a permanent routine.  Usually this person will get blindsided by an obstacle and will eventually backslide.

Does this mean that quitting cold turkey is impossible?

Of course not, you can’t throw a stone without hitting someone who will say something like, “I quit XXX cold turkey and I haven’t had a XXX since 20XX.”

So, it’s possible to stop a habit one day and never do it again.  And it’s possible to win the lottery.  But don’t count on either happening to you anytime soon.

#2 Cold Turkey Causes Suffering

Have no doubt about it, quitting a physical addiction suddenly and abruptly can cause pain and suffering, both mental and physical depending on the level of your addiction.

Now, there are many people who have gone cold turkey who will you that craving is a natural part of ending an addiction. They have the idea that the withdrawal symptoms “motivates” them to never to pick up this habit again.

What you find instead is these same people will eventually relapse and will become more resistant to trying to quit again because they painfully recall their traumatic experiences from the past.  Since it sometimes takes a few tries to finally kick a habit, this is a huge obstacle to making a lifelong, permanent change.

It is just so hard to beat bad habits directly.

#3 Cold Turkey can be Dangerous

Before I go further, let me say that quitting any serious addiction (drugs, alcohol and eating disorders) should be monitored by a doctor, because of the safety factors. But even habits like smoking and caffeine can become a safety hazard if you try to quit cold turkey.

When your body is used to something, it rebels when that habit disappears. This can cause fluctuations in your heart rate and blood pressure. It can also cause depression, anxiety, and a transference to other addictions.

Depending on the seriousness of the addiction, you should talk to a doctor before trying to quit that habit.

#4 Cold Turkey Doesn’t Follow a Plan

Admittedly, cold turkey can be the quickest way to fight off an addiction.  There is no need to plan, no need to tell others, no need to slowly wean yourself from the addiction.  You just DO IT.

But I always think of a phrase I often heard growing up, “If you are going to do something, do it right”.

After all, jumping off a building may be the quickest way to the bottom, but taking the steps down is a safer and smarter way to get to the same place.

While cold turkey may be the quickest way to a cure, it’s often not the most effective.

A far better approach is to plan, build a support network and use whatever tools are at your disposal for the specific addiction/bad habit that you are trying to combat.  By taking a strategic approach and planning for potential relapses, you’ll be more likely to turn this change into a permanent elimination of an unhealthy habit.

Beating a bad habit is hard.  No doubt about that. But when you learn to avoid the major habit mistakes it does become a bit easier.

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