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"Cold turkey" describes 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.

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),[1][2] Joel Spitzer and John R. Polito (smoking cessation educators whose work is free at[3] and Allen Carr (who founded Easyway during the early 1980s) are cold turkey plans.

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, benzodiazepines, and heroin 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, possible stroke or heart failure).[citation needed]


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.[4]
  • From the American phrase talk turkey meaning "to speak bluntly with little preparation".[5]
  • Some[who?] 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.[citation needed]

Side effects

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.[6]

In the case of dependence upon certain drugs, including opiates such as heroin, going cold turkey may be extremely unpleasant, but less dangerous.[7]


  1. "New book details history of LLU bringing ‘Health to the People’". Loma Linda University. March 31, 2008. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  2. 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.
  3. "WhyQuit". WhyQuit. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  4. [1] Cold turkey in the Online Etymology Dictionary
  5. [2] cold turkey definition[not in citation given]
  6. Hughes, John R. (2009). "Alcohol withdrawal seizures". Epilepsy & Behavior 15: 92–7. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.02.037.
  7. [3] Opiate withdrawal: Medline Plus — NIH.

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