Going Cold Turkey

Thirty six hours, groanin' in pain
Prayin' to someone, free me again
Oh I'll be a good boy, please make me well
I promise you
anything, get me out of this hell
Cold turkey has got me on the run.
John Lennon, "Cold Turkey"

In Real Life, breaking free of a drug addiction can be a lengthy process, and none of it is fun. For certain addictions, most famously alcohol, heroin, and sedatives, it may take months and require medical supervision. For some substances, going cold turkey in real life can be dangerous as the body can develop a physical dependency on the chemicals. Psychological dependencies can be equally agonizing, but they will only make one wish they would die. In fiction, however, people routinely overcome their substance habit by going through a single self-imposed (and often painful) withdrawal phase, after which they are no longer addicted. May involve throwing the drugs in the trash, flushing them down a toilet, or pouring alcohol down a drain. Frequently involves locking oneself up in a room or chaining oneself to a bed. Friends may be enlisted to help prevent backsliding.

While quitting some drugs (primarily alcohol) cold turkey can become medical issues due to physical withdrawal symptoms, for others (nicotine, cocaine, opiates, etc.) this trope becomes Truth in Television.

See also Cold Turkeys Are Everywhere and Off The Wagon.

Examples:

Comic Books
  • Originally, Green Arrow's sidekick Speedy kicked his heroin addiction after a couple of days of going cold turkey under Black Canary's supervision. Later stories have added in hospital time and detox programs.
  • Batman overcame an addiction to venom by locking himself in the Batcave for a month.
  • Alan Quartermain in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was forcibly made to go cold turkey to kick his opium addiction. The fact that he's locked in a submarine and encounters at least one unpleasant sea creature through his portcullis whilst going through withdrawal symptoms doesn't help matters.
  • Tony Stark goes through this in the Iron Man storyline "Demon in a Bottle".

Film
  • Trainspotting. It doesn't work for long, however.
  • The Basketball Diaries : It doesn't work for long either.
  • The Good Thief: Bob (played by Nick Nolte, who has himself struggled with drug addiction in Real Life), overcomes his heroin habit by chaining himself to a bed.
  • The Man With The Golden Arm: Ol' Blue Eyes has a rather harrowing one of these, especially for a film made in 1955.
  • Norman Lear's comedy Cold Turkey has an entire town attempting to give up smoking this way in order to win a multimillion dollar prize from a tobacco company.
  • Spoofed in Airplane, where McCroskey has apparently gone cold turkey on every drug of note at the time of the film's making... in the same week.
  • In Frequency, Frank Sullivan finds out from his son from the future that he will die of cancer from his smoking. Frank initially protests this but near the end of the film manages to kick the habit and survive to arrive in the present and save his son's life 30 years later.
  • In the sequel to From Dusk Till Dawn one of the main characters, when offered a cigarette, says he quit smoking by going cold turkey years ago.
  • In Candy, the lead couple tries to break free of their drug addiction by locking themselves up in their home. Suffering ensued.
  • In Christiane F. (German: Wir Kinder vom Bahnhof Zoo) the two kids try this and end up squirming with pain on the floor.
  • Christian Bale's character in The Fighter is going through this phase in his prison cell.
  • H: The film centres around a junkie couple. One day the man wakes up and decides they're going to kick (without discussing it with the woman). It doesn't last, however, and their resolve is tested when he finds one last hit.
  • In The Seven Percent Solution, Sherlock Holmes is forced to do this by Dr. Watson, his brother Mycroft, and Sigmund Freud.
  • In Lady Sings The Blues, Diana Ross portrays Billie Holiday going through this - a real life event when Billie was sentenced to the Federal facility in West Virginia to an early form of "rehab" in the late 1940s.
Literature
  • In Dan Simmons' The Terror the main character does this with alcoholism and nearly dies in the process.
  • Eddie Dean in The Drawing of the Three (the second book in Stephen King's The Dark Tower series) involuntarily kicks heroin cold turkey after being drawn into Roland's world (which is a very painful process for him, and once drives him close to suicide). Admirably, he does not pick it up again after gaining access to Earth, and by extension, the drug.
  • At one point in the Lensman series, Kimball Kinnison needed to go undercover as an alcoholic drug addict ... and the Boskonians would know exactly what he was drinking/taking, so Frothy Mugs of Water are out. After several spectacular binges, he heads back to base with the information he was after. By the time he arrives, he's completely eliminated both the physical and psychological cravings via cold turkey. Granted, if anyone can willpower the psychological part of addiction away, it's a Second Stage Lensman.
    • The book even outlines his thought process when choosing the drug he's going to become "addicted" to; he considers several, and rejects them for various reasons before settling on one that's not tremendously debilitating (something like chewing tobacco or betel nuts, but with soporific properties) and cheap enough that his asteroid miner persona could afford it. The alcohol more or less isn't a problem, because while he buys drinks by the bottle to promote his reputation as a hard-partying lush, he shares them generously so that he actually isn't drinking much himself.
  • In The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls describes how her father attempted to break his alcohol addiction this way, complete with tying himself to his bed. He spends several days screaming and hallucinating. He does stop drinking for awhile, but before long picks it up again.
  • Mischa in the Second Sons trilogy goes completely cold turkey off of opium, which he was intentionally addicted to as a child to keep him under control.
  • Christiane F.: the book on which the above-mentioned film is based is about a group of teenage junkies. The term "cold turkey" is used not just for the process of getting clean, but for the feelings of withdrawal that signature the person needs their next hit. In addition to the scene described above, the narrator describes some of the terrible things they do while trying to avoid "cold turkey." The narrator also withdraws, gets clean, and goes back to drugs several times throughout the text.
  • In Vampire Academy, this is Rose's way of dealing with her dependency of the endorphins released by being bitten and drank from.

Live-Action TV
  • Sabrina the Teenage Witch. With pancakes.
  • Charlie on Lost. When you're trapped on a desert island, going cold turkey is really the only option, but he seemed to get over his addiction to heroin pretty smoothly, considering, and even throws his remaining stash into the fire. Unfortunately, another plane is found by the survivors that just happened to be full of smuggled heroin. He finally manages to get rid of that, too, though.
  • Subverted in Kenny vs. Spenny: Kenny had to act like he was going cold turkey because he pretended to be seriously addicted.
  • Subverted in Royal Pains: Mr. Bryant insists that he can "detox" from his drug addiction alone, and quits cold-turkey in a painful withdrawal montage. At the end of the episode, though, his son catches him sneaking pills again and takes him to a reputable rehab facility.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl forces an old woman (and himself) to quit nicotine cold turkey.
  • Leverage: subverted in the first season's "The Twelve-Step Job" when, after a forced stint in rehab and a fair amount of withdrawal, Nate ends the episode with the line "I'm ready for a drink." Averted in season two when it's clear that even though Nate has quit drinking, he's still an addict and trying to control everything.
  • This is what Starsky & Hutch do after a criminal forcibly hooks Hutch on heroin in the episode "The Fix".
  • When Daniel Jackson becomes addicted to the sarcophagus in the Stargate SG-1 episode "Need," he goes through a painful and nearly fatal withdrawal when he's prevented from using it again. In a variation, his detox stage isn't one that he enters voluntarily, and he's strapped to an infirmary bed until the worst of the symptoms are over. Or at least that was the plan; he gets loose and injures multiple people before Jack talks him into rejecting the sarcophagus. After this episode, sarcophagus addiction never comes up again except for a brief mention in season six and seven. No one from the SGC ever uses a sarcophagus again either, except for when Ba'al uses one to torture Jack.
  • In Supernatural Dean and Bobby hold an intervention to try and break Sam's addiction to demon blood this way. Due to the nature of his addiction it involves him hallucinating numerous people as they harangue, torture, or make excuses for him, spasms, hallucinating dark marks appearing on his skin, and actually being telekinetically hurled about the room.
  • In one episode of The Colbert Report Stephen Colbert advised heroin addicts to break their addictions the same way he did, chaining himself to a radiator for two weeks with a supply of chocolate bars, warning them that during that time they may hallucinate a bat eating a baby.
  • House does this four times. The first time he stops taking his beloved Vicodin, he has rather strong withdrawal symptoms and ultimately admits to himself that he is an addict, but decides to keep it that way because he doesn't see it as a problem. The second time, he simply doesn't need the medication because he's pain-free for several weeks. This happens between seasons, so withdrawal is not addressed. The third time he doesn't have any symptoms whatsoever, but in the next episode it turns out that it was a hallucination and that he was on Vicodin the whole time. The fourth time is during a stay in a rehab clinic, which made him abandon his drug addiction.
  • In My Hero, George attempts to go "cold porky" from pork scratchings (Which gives his alien brain super-intelligence, but turns him into a jerk).
  • Orange Is the New Black: Tricia goes through a painful withdrawal in the episode "Moscow Mule." Nicky is sent to tell her Red won't forgive her for a second infraction.

Music
  • John Lennon's song "Cold Turkey", about heroin withdrawal.
  • DT Jesus from Savatage's Streets: A Rock Opera goes cold turkey in an attempt to salvage his career.
  • Sixx AM's song "Girl With Golden Eyes"
  • Johnny Cash's When Uncle Bill Quit Dope tells the story of an uncle locking himself in his bedroom until he's over his cocaine addiction.

Musical Theatre
  • This is averted in the film version of RENT. Although Mimi's attempt to quit cold turkey is treated in only one song, it's shown as a difficult and painful process. She also fails, and goes back to her dealer at the end of the song.

Newspaper Comics
  • Bloom County: Opus quits smoking, going "Cold Puffin" as he calls it. He is later corrected by Milo.

Real Life
  • American soldier/actor Audie Murphy became dependent on a brand of sleeping pill called Placidyl, originally prescribed by his doctor. To combat his addiction, he locked himself in a hotel room for a week and just endured the painful withdrawal symptoms until they passed. Then he went and gave his doctor hell about prescribing him this stuff in the first place. Of course for him defeating a drug addiction through sheer willpower was par for the course.
    • In another early example of celebrity rehab, Jerry Lewis kicked a 12-year addiction to Percodans (oxycodone with aspirin) in 1978, and was consequently featured in People magazine as one of the first mainstream celebs to admit to drug abuse. The tablets had been prescribed for a serious back injury from a pratfall that went wrong. Shortly after quitting, Lewis nearly died from a gastric ulcer bleed - caused by the aspirin in the tablets. The symptoms had been hidden by the analgesic effect. This is why the drug companies switched to mixing the oxycodone with APAP instead, to make the now better-known Percocets.
  • Note for the harder drugs this is not only a bad idea but could be a lethal one. Heroin Addicts that want to quit, normally have to be addicted to something else (like Methadone) then something else then they can quit. Opioid withdrawal could be considered a Fate Worse Than Death.
    • Opiate withdrawal is (very) unpleasant. Sudden withdrawal of sedative-hypnotics (alcohol, benzodiazepine or barbiturates) can be fatal. Oh, and by some accounts methadone is even harder to quit than heroin.
    • Theodore Dalrymple's Romancing the Opiates discusses the difficulty of opiate withdrawal. Any number of people have done so without medical assistance. This is not the most advisable route, however, because opiates do build real physical dependency, which will not normally kill a healthy person, however, although the weakening of the body from addiction, the substance, and the great strain induced by withdrawl can weaken sufferers to where it isn't particularly hard for something else to finish them off. The longer term, heavier users suffer this more severely than those who partake less, and it only gets worse the longer it is delayed and only gets worse each time the attempt is made — all the more incentive to really kick it the first time. Seriously, get proper medical assistance for kicking the narcotics, because if you delay, or fail and have to start again, it'll suck even more.
    • Mike Williams was already in the process of kicking his opiate addiction as a whole (he had quit using heroin and was on a methadone regimen) before Hurricane Katrina hit, but he was arrested, convicted of drug possession, and jailed sometime after. During his stay in jail, he was forced to go without anything; as a result, he was unable to sleep for seven days and barely ate, subsiding only on slices of bread soaked in water so that he would not have to worry as much about vomiting them back up. After being released, he found that he had managed to kick it completely and was no longer addicted.
  • Alcohol is normally harmless to quit cold turkey, not that it's particularly fun — it'll definitely put a damper on you, even if you didn't drink very much to begin with. If you're a bigger drinker, you're liable to feel bored, unfocused, and gain a hairTriggerTemper. So one might not want to even start? The thing is that alcohol, provided you aren't taking dozens of drinks on a weekly basis, actually has health benefits including improved mood, increased creativity, slowed aging, protection against heart disease, boosts immunity, moderates stress, and most baffingly, actually makes drinkers live demonstrably longer than abstainers.
    • For true alcoholics, who are actually physically dependent upon alcohol to function, quitting cold turkey can actually be fatal. It's a condition called Delirium Tremens (Frenzy Shaking), and absolutely demands medical intervention, because it DOES kill people. Sadly, this has to be treated with booze, and since the types who'd get Delirium Tremens tend to be the kind to not be able to stop themselves, well... going through professional detox is pretty much the only option.

Video Games
  • Heavy Rain: One of the protagonists is addicted to Triptocaine. You can choose to either quit cold turkey or support his habit. Going without it is an incredibly painful proccess for him (even though it manages to span only four days). As it turns out, quitting the drug makes him even more unstable. Way to go.
  • In Fallout 1, 2 and Fallout Tactics: Brotherhood of Steel, it is the only way to get free of a drug addiction. It takes between one and two weeks to do so, and incurs a heavy stat penalty until you get over it. Jet is the only drug you can't quit (Even Psycho addiction can be fought going cold turkey).
    • In Fallout 3 addiction can only be cured by a doctor or your home chemistry set.
  • In Scarface: The World is Yours, Tony Montana has apparently dropped his cocaine habit according to a brief piece of dialogue. He still has no problem selling it by the truckload, though.
    "Yeyo — that shit make you crazy, man. Never again."
  • An odd example is using tactics in video games. An easy way to see this is in a fighting game. It's not as bad or long as drugs, but depending on the player, suddenly restricting a certain tactic, move, or weapon may evoke a response that is similar to quitting cold turkey in a player. Mainly it will be rage or temporary emotional instability until the person in question can either get on with playing with another thing, or get the missing thing back. Again, it varies from player to player but if you are with a bunch of gaming friends then you should be able to see this at least once. This is the reason Complacent Gaming Syndrome exists; when one method, character, or strategy works extremely well every time, the player will gravitate towards it and refuse to use anything else. When taken out of their comfort zone, they may actually play a lot worse since they are not used to anything they never used before.
  • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, Cullen stopped using lyrium after the events of Dragon Age II and by the time of the game is secretly going through withdrawal symptoms, even telling Cassandra to relieve him of his duties if he ever ends up compromised. The Inquisitor can either encourage him to weather through it or go back to taking it to stop the symptoms.

Web Comics

Western Animation
  • The Penguins of Madagascar - "Two Feet High and Rising" - To prevent King Julian from banishing Mort, Marlene brings him to the penguins to help him overcome his crazed obsession over King Julian's feet. Using conditioning to equate the touching of feet with electrical shocks, Mort gradually becomes "100% lemur foot-phobic". However, for the sake of status-quo, this is all undone towards the end of the episode.
  • King of the Hill - When Hank catches Bobby smoking a cigarette, he punishes him by forcing him to smoke an entire carton. The plan backfires when Bobby instead becomes more addicted, while the situation makes Hank and Peggy take up smoking again for relaxation. After days without a cigarette, Hank, Peggy, and Bobby are cranky and ready to kill one another, until they discover one stray cigarette in the house. After they fight over it, Luanne, having had enough, locks the three of them inside Hank and Peggy's bedroom until they finally beat their addiction. In the morning they all thank Luanne for helping them through it.
  • CatDog - To make preparations for a dancing competition, Cat puts an overweight Dog on a diet so he will be fit enough for the competition. This was often met with many setbacks whenever Dog kept hidden stashes of food, which he ate while exercising. Eventually, under threat of disqualification, Dog relents and loses enough weight for the competition. This backfires where a starving Dog finally breaks and proceeds to devour not only the buffet, but the entire theatre!
  • On Rugrats Angelica attempted to give up her favorite food (cookies) after getting a stomach ache from eating too many at one sitting. She was not successful.