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The 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. The supposed disadvantages related to the abuse of drugs such as alcohol and benzodiazepines are unbearable withdrawal symptoms from the total absence, which may cause tremendous stress on the heart and blood vessels (and, in a worst-case scenario, death). Heroin withdrawal shares many of these same symptoms, although deaths only occur in 'rapid-detox' treatments alongside other administered medications, such as Naltrexone or Naloxone.
Sudden withdrawal from drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines and barbiturates can be extremely dangerous, leading to potentially fatal seizures. In long-term 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 dependence upon certain drugs, including opiates such as heroin, going cold turkey may be extremely unpleasant, but less dangerous. Life-threatening issues are unlikely without a pre-existing medical condition.
Smoking cessation methods advanced by J. Wayne McFarland and Elman J. Folkenburg (an M.D. and a pastor who wrote their Five Day Plan in about 1959), Joel Spitzer and John R. Polito (smoking cessation educators whose work is free at WhyQuit.com) and Allen Carr (who founded Easyway® during the early 1980s) are cold turkey plans.
The phrase's use in popular culture includes:
- John Lennon's song "Cold Turkey", about kicking heroin
- Norman Lear's 1971 movie Cold Turkey, about a small town that gives up smoking to win $25,000,000
- Cage's 2013 song This Place, where he sings: "I can't believe I made it out with so little damage/ Back then I thought cold turkey was a fuckin' sandwich"
An early printed use of the word in the mainstream media to refer to drug withdrawal occurred in a February 26, 1951 Time magazine article "High & Light":
- "There is one dimly hopeful side to the teenage dope problem. Unlike older people, few teenagers appear to take to drugs because of psychological troubles; youngsters usually start using narcotics either out of ignorance or the same reckless impulses which lead them to race hot rods. Though they are easier to wean, however, there are almost no facilities for taking care of them. On New York's Rikers Island, youngsters have to endure the horrors of a sudden "cold turkey" cure or get none at all. Once released, many go right back to drugs again."
It had been previously used in this sense by Mickey Spillane in his novel "I, the Jury": "Included was a medical record from the hospital when he had made her go cold turkey, which is dope-addict talk for an all-out cure."
There are several explanations of the phrase's origin:
- A narrowing of the meaning "suddenly or without preparation," from cold turkey being a dish that requires little preparation; originally used for heroin addicts.
- From the American phrase talk turkey meaning "to speak bluntly with little preparation".
- Some believe the derivation is from the comparison of a cold turkey carcass and the state of a withdrawing addict — most notably, the cold sweats, goose bumps.
- Reference to the periods after Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays where cold (leftover) turkey was likely to be eaten, coinciding with the end of those holidays' characteristically high alcohol consumption.
- Also if you are on a diet, and you cheat on it for a long time and you want to get back on track, you can go "cold turkey" and start the next day completely fresh. All About Addiction by Adi Jaffe, Ph.D. (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/all-about-addiction/201001/alcohol-benzos-and-opiates-withdrawal-might-kill-you)
- Hughes, John R. (2009). "Alcohol withdrawal seizures". Epilepsy & Behavior 15 (2): 92–7. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.02.037. PMID 19249388.
- Opiate withdrawal. Medline Plus — NIH.
- "New book details history of LLU bringing ‘Health to the People’". Loma Linda University. March 31, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
- McFarland, J. Wayne and Folkenberg, Elman J. (1964). "The Five-Day Plan to Quit Smoking" (PDF). University Health Services, University of Wisconsin. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- "WhyQuit". WhyQuit. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- "Allen Carr Worldwide". Allen Carr. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
-  Cold turkey in the Online Etymology Dictionary
-  cold turkey definition