Cold Turkey: The Myth that Made Us Believe

by Dr Antonio Howell, MD

in quit smoking

Dr. Howell

Even with the over-the-counter smoking cessation medicines such as nicotine gums, patches, lozenges, sprays, etc. still some smokers would quit cold turkey. Quitting cold turkey is a technique used by some smokers to quit without the use of any smoking cessation medicines. For instance, a smoker suddenly stops smoking and refuses to use any NRT or smoking cessation drugs to intervene or lessen the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.

Blond woman giving up smokingThis article doesn’t suggest however, that quitting cold turkey is not effective nor that it won’t work for specific persons. It does work, too. However, it is important to address the common misapprehensions about quitting cold turkey so you can make an informed decision.

Myth: It is the most effective quit smoking technique.

Fact: Studies repeatedly established that only 3 to 6 out of 100 smokers will succeed quitting cold turkey – making it the least effective of all other quit strategies. The mental, physical, and behavioral aspects of nicotine withdrawal contribute to this low numbers. This doesn’t mean however, that a quitter cannot quit cold turkey, only that, other methods offer better conditions.

Myth: It is the safest smoking cessation technique.


Fact: Quitting is seldom dangerous, and far more beneficial than continued smoking. Measured nicotine withdrawal offers a more comfortable way towards a tobacco-free life. The abrupt application or use of cold turkey method among heavy smokers can cause instabilities in the blood pressure and heart rate, trigger “jitters”, cold sweat. Also sudden changes in the metabolism can greatly affect the doses of prescription medication.

Quitting cold turkey can also trigger severe depression and suicidal tendencies among smokers with mental health conditions, or cause enormous hormonal or chemical changes in the body. And lastly, it can cause a switch from nicotine addiction to caffeine, sugar, etc., which can lead to weight gain, anxiety, and depression – which are common causes of a relapse.

Myth: It is the fastest way to get through the withdrawal stage.


Fact: Contrary to this belief, smokers who quit cold turkey experience the most intense withdrawal symptoms depending on the level of nicotine addiction. The first three days determines whether a smoker can make it or fail. However, moderate to severe symptoms may be experienced several weeks after quitting cold turkey. Again, this is not a conclusive statement. The intensity of the withdrawal symptoms still depends on your current nicotine addiction and metabolism.

Myth: The overwhelming experience of quitting cold turkey prevents a relapse.

Fact: Former smokers would claim that the overwhelming experience they had when quitting cold turkey discourages them to light because they do not want to go through it again. There is no single well-founded research to support this claim up to the writing of this article. There is no establish proof or study concluding that past nicotine withdrawal experiences keeps former smokers quit. Instead, most smokers are afraid to quit because of their bad experiences when trying to quit the past.

Amidst the myths that made us believe the quitting cold turkey is the best way out of the smoking habit, it is still one of the most widely used smoking cessation techniques, largely because it is free and easy. However, most of these smokers would relapse during the first week. This is among the reasons why a large number of smokers are switching to NRTs and other prescription drugs like Chantix.

Having said all of these, quitting cold turkey may still be among the best ways to quit smoking if you’re middle-aged or on post-menopausal stage, not being treated for mental condition, pregnant, less than 120lbs, or you don’t smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day. However, if your fear or you know that quitting cold turkey will negatively affect your health, you can consult your doctor for the available choices you have other than quitting cold turkey.



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