Cold turkey

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"Cold turkey" refers to the abrupt cessation of a substance dependence and the resulting unpleasant experience, as opposed to gradually easing the process through reduction over time or by using replacement medication.

Sudden withdrawal from drugs such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, and barbiturates can be extremely dangerous, leading to potentially fatal seizures. For long-term alcoholics, going cold turkey can cause life-threatening delirium tremens, rendering this an inappropriate method for breaking an alcohol addiction.[1]

In the case of opioid withdrawal, going "cold turkey" is extremely unpleasant but less dangerous.[2][3] Life-threatening issues are unlikely unless one has a pre-existing medical condition.[3]

Smoking cessation plans[edit]

Smoking cessation researchers include:


The very first adaptation of the phrase "cold turkey" to its current meaning is a matter of some debate and ambiguity.[8]

Scholars of 19th-century British periodicals have pointed to the UK satirical magazine Judy as the true catalyst of the evolution in the phrase's meaning. The journal's issue of January 3, 1877, featured the fictional diary of one John Humes, Esquire. The diary's transcript on the day in question details Mr Humes' exploits over his Christmas holiday. Throughout, Humes demonstrates a scrooge-like attitude, complaining to every shopkeeper and acquaintance about the irony of the words "merry" and "jolly" being attached to the season. Most significantly, Hume is invited to stay at his cousin Clara's as a part of her household's celebrations. Hume, the miser to the core, is shocked that Clara serves him slices of (literal) cold turkey with his pudding and other side dishes on the evening of his arrival. A poor substitute for the roasted and dressed kind of turkey is the continually played-up implication in the comedy piece. The dissatisfied barrister stays several days nonetheless, and with each passing day, he is more and more shocked that the cold turkey finds its way onto his plate again. Finally, Hume arrives home, utterly disgusted at having been treated so badly. He calls for his estate lawyer and chops Clara completely out of his will and testament.[9]

The hypothesis posited by researchers is that word quickly spread from London to the rest of Britain, and finally the U.S., about Hume's having given Clara "the cold turkey treatment," as in excluding and excommunicating someone (taking Clara out of his will) in order to exact revenge for the person's ongoing ill-treatment of oneself (the repeated serving of the cold turkey).

The next known earliest print appearance of "cold turkey" in its exclusionary sense dates to 1910, in Canadian poet Robert W. Service's The Trail of '98: A Northland Romance: "Once I used to gamble an' drink the limit. One morning I got up from the card-table after sitting there thirty-six hours. I'd lost five thousand dollars. I knew they'd handed me out 'cold turkey'..."

Another possible origin relates to the American phrase talk turkey, meaning "to speak bluntly with little preparation".[8][10][11][12] The phrase "taking cold turkey" has also been reported during the 1920s as slang for pleading guilty.[13]

The term is also attributed to piloerection or "goose bumps" that occurs with abrupt withdrawal from opioids, which resembles the skin of a plucked refrigerated turkey.[3][14] However, the term was used in other contexts before being used to describe withdrawal.[8] The similar term "kick the habit" alludes to the muscle spasms that occur in addition to goosebumps in some cases.[14]

A term appears in its contemporary usage in a December 1920 New York City medical bulletin:[15]

Some addicts voluntarily stop taking opiates and "suffer it out" as they express it without medical assistance, a process which in their slang is called taking "cold turkey"...

Another early printed use, this one in the media to refer to drug withdrawal occurred in the Daily Colonist in British Columbia in 1921:[16]

Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr Carleton Simon ... are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, that are given what is called the 'cold turkey' treatment.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hughes, John R. (2009). "Alcohol withdrawal seizures". Epilepsy & Behavior. 15 (2): 92–7. doi:10.1016/j.yebeh.2009.02.037. PMID 19249388. S2CID 20197292.
  2. ^ Opiate withdrawal. Medline Plus — NIH.
  3. ^ a b c Ghodse, Hamid (2010). Ghodse's Drugs and Addictive Behaviour: A Guide to Treatment. Cambridge University Press. p. 77. ISBN 9781139485678.
  4. ^ "New book details history of LLU bringing 'Health to the People'". Loma Linda University. March 31, 2008. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2010.
  5. ^ McFarland, J. Wayne; Folkenberg, Elman J. (1964). "The Five-Day Plan to Quit Smoking" (PDF). University Health Services, University of Wisconsin. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 10, 2010. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  6. ^ "WhyQuit". WhyQuit. Archived from the original on February 7, 2010. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  7. ^ "Allen Carr Worldwide". Allen Carr. Archived from the original on April 11, 2021. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  8. ^ a b c "Why Do We Quit "Cold Turkey"". Merriam Webster. Archived from the original on January 3, 2020. Retrieved Jan 3, 2020.
  9. ^ Judy, Or the London Serio-comic Journal. 1877.
  10. ^ "cold turkey Archived 2010-04-19 at the Wayback Machine" definition,
  11. ^ "Etymology of 'Cold Turkey'". 25 March 2014. Archived from the original on 13 May 2022. Retrieved 13 October 2019.
  12. ^ "The meaning and origin of the expression: Cold turkey". Archived from the original on 2019-10-13. Retrieved 2019-10-13.
  13. ^ Statistical Report. New York (N.Y.). Police Dept. Page 192. 1924.
  14. ^ a b Hales, Robert E.; Yudofsky, Stuart C.; Roberts, Laura Weiss (2014). The American Psychiatric Publishing Textbook of Psychiatry, Sixth Edition. American Psychiatric Publishing. p. 779. ISBN 9781585624447.
  15. ^ The Narcotic Drug Problem Arthur D. Greenfield. December 1920. Monthly Bulletin of the Department of Health in the City of New York, Volume 10
  16. ^ Movers and Shakers: A Chronology of Words that Shaped Our Age, by John Ayto