According to Peter Brown in his book The Love You Make, the song was written in a "creative outburst" following Lennon and Yoko Ono going "cold turkey" from their brief heroin addictions. Brown also states that Lennon presented the song to Paul McCartney as a potential single by The Beatles, as they were finishing recording for their Abbey Road album, but was refused and released it as a Plastic Ono Band single with sole writing credits to him.
"Cold Turkey" was the first song Lennon wrote for which he took sole credit; his previous compositions, including his first single release, "Give Peace a Chance", were attributed to the Lennon–McCartney partnership, although the credit for "Give Peace a Chance" was later changed to Lennon alone. It was recorded in Abbey Road Studio 2, and features Eric Clapton. There are other versions, a couple acoustic, and one that features Ono adding her unique vocalisations (as they did the song live), but none of these served as the single.
The single was released with a standard green Apple label, with the words "Play Loud" printed on the spindle plug of the UK pressing and above and beneath the spindle hole of the US pressing. This instruction would also appear on the labels of Lennon's next solo single, "Instant Karma!".
"Cold Turkey" rose to number 14 on the UK Singles Chart on 15 November 1969. On 22 November, "Cold Turkey" dropped to number 15, and on 25 November Lennon returned his MBE to Buckingham Palace saying "I am returning this MBE in protest against Britain's involvement in the Nigeria-Biafra thing, against our support of America in Vietnam, and against Cold Turkey slipping down the charts. With love, John Lennon of Bag."  In March 2005, Q magazine placed "Cold Turkey" at number 74 in its list of the 100 Greatest Guitar Tracks.
^ abBrown, Peter. The Love You Make: An Insider's Story of The Beatles. McGraw-Hill, 1983. New American Library, 2002. 331.
^Noyer, Paul Du (2010). "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. pp. 25–26. ISBN978-1-84732-665-2.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^ abNoyer, Paul Du (2010). "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 27. ISBN978-1-84732-665-2.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^Noyer, Paul Du (2010). "John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band". John Lennon: The Stories Behind Every Song 1970–1980 (Rev. ed.). London: Carlton Books Ltd. p. 28. ISBN978-1-84732-665-2.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)
^ abcBlaney, John (2005). John Lennon: Listen to This Book (illustrated ed.). [S.l.]: Paper Jukebox. p. 41. ISBN978-0-9544528-1-0.|accessdate= requires |url= (help)