Cold Turkey: No Longer Just for Sandwiches

By | November 27, 2011

I’m a passionate man—a doer. At the same time, I like to approach change gradually. Too fast and I don’t have time to adjust, which usually results in my efforts backfiring. Or so I thought.

Yesterday I read an article in a health report that claimed 90% of those who were successful at quitting smoking for more than a year did it by going cold turkey—on the spot, on their own, with no supplemental medication or counseling. Impressive sounding, but not very believable. After all, everyone knows that those who quit addictive drugs cold turkey break out in cold sweats, hallucinate, and are wracked by insatiable cravings. Besides, how could such a high percentage of people be so successful on their own when most smokers I know are like comedian George Burns, who said that quitting smoking was easy—he’d done it a thousand times.

And what if other smoking cessation methods were as effective as going cold turkey?  In 0.46 seconds, Google handed me a dozen solid research reports that all said the same thing: the drug companies were milking the public with their nicotine patches, gums, and whatnot—they showed long-term success rates of only 3 to 10%, with a near-100% failure rate for those making a second attempt. Drugs like bupropion and smoking succession clinics fared better, reaching 30%.  Not even combination methods could come close to cold turkey.

While perusing the reports, I came across another statistic: two thirds of smokers would prefer to quit gradually. If only they knew the odds, I thought. And then I realized I was one of them—I too favored the gradual approach. Did that mean I was a failure along with all those wannabe non-smokers?

I reviewed the major changes I had made in my life, which included quitting alcohol and becoming a vegetarian, and I did every one of them…cold turkey. So pass the mayonnaise; I’m now an advocate of cold turkey on rye, cold turkey casseroles, and any other way the long-snubbed leftover can be put to good use.


Nathan on January 1, 2013 at 11:19 pm.

Seems like there might be a little lack of clarity mixed in here. It is Not that 90% of people who try and quit tobacco ‘cold turkey’ are successful, it is that of the few people who do quit successfully, most (90%) of them do it cold turkey. As a matter of fact “quitting cold turkey has a success rate of about 5%. But if you are equipped with tools and a plan you have a much higher success rate of quitting smoking” (Sheldon of

Cold turkey is the ‘best way’ when compared to taking other drugs/versions of nicotine delivery, etc. And the worst is tapering–which just prolongs the withdrawl/agony.

For me being really clear in my mind on all the reasons to quit, and that there is no reason to smoke. And that I am just doing it out of serving this false/foreign…. hunger/craving/habit/addiction.

Yes, quitting with support/friends helps as well…….


Nan on January 8, 2012 at 1:54 pm.

Your description of me in terms far more glowing than “stubborn” makes me think perhaps you should do the marketing and send me 10%….


Nan on January 1, 2012 at 8:41 am.

Cold turkey may be effective, but it did not work for me. And it wasn’t going to work for me, because back when I quit, I was too angry about it. I didn’t want to stop smoking, but I had contracted valley fever on a visit home, and my lungs demanded it. I was almost 21 and not in a good place emotionally – too many issues – and after a few failed attempts I knew it wasn’t going to happen any time soon. I needed another plan.

As a creature of habit, I reasoned that since I had gradually worked my way up from that first tentative cigarette to a pack a day, perhaps reversing that pattern would be a more effective strategy for me. I took a step back and looked at the smoking habit I had built and thought about how to deconstruct it. 20 cigarettes every day – when did I choose to have each of them, and why? I decided to quit by eliminating one cigarette at a time.

The one I had first thing in the morning was easy to give up, because I knew I would have one after breakfast. Later, the one after breakfast was easy to give up because I knew I would have one before lunch. I didn’t feel guilty about having one before lunch because I had given up the one after breakfast.

And so on. Each cigarette I gave up built my confidence to give up yet another. Sometimes only a few days would pass before I was ready to give up a particular cigarette, sometimes it would be many weeks. The hardest ones to give up were the ones I had socially, with other smokers. I started carrying around a small bag of sunflower seeds – shelling them gave me something to do with my hands when my friends had cigarettes in theirs. I still smoked with them, but perhaps only one for every three or four cigarettes I would usually have had, shelling seeds in between. In addition to that “substitution” I drank alfalfa leaf tea to help flush the chemicals from my system.

The habit gradually faded, and one day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time I had a cigarette, and I wasn’t eating all that many sunflower seeds any more, either. It had been approximately a year since I started to quit, which as it turns out, was about the same length of time it had taken to build the habit.


Tamarack on January 8, 2012 at 7:52 am.

Hi Nan,

How fortunate you are to be one of the few who were able to wean yourself gradually. My hunch is that the conscious approach worked so well for you because of your resoluteness and self-reliance. I’ve seen you follow through on other issues that lesser people like the rest of us would struggle with.

I wonder if your formula will work for others, and if so we ought to get a marketing program going. I’ll be fine with 10% of net.

Drooling for dollars,



Jennifer on December 5, 2011 at 12:07 pm.

I quit smoking cold turkey after 15 years of poisoning myself with this toxic addiction. It was easy, once I did one simple thing – read about it at:


Tamarack on December 7, 2011 at 9:59 am.

Hi Jennifer,

Good for you—and good for all of us to have your example and inspiration. Yours is a prime illustration of how going cold turkey works best with clarity and solid motivation. As obvious as yours were, I think we all have them—we only need to let go of our yeah-buts.

I wish you and David well with your growing family,



Alex on November 28, 2011 at 5:59 pm.

mmmm… Turkey…….

Here is some of my brainstorming on the issue…

I think that quitting cold Turkey does work, as long as there is a real passion behind it – that’s what helps to deal with the discomfort of readjustment. With passion, people can quite easily quit. Of course.. it’s important for that passion to come from a healthy place – for it to perhaps revolve a healthy longing, a healthy fear. There is quitting overeating, and there is quitting food. There is quitting a dysfunctional work situation, and there is quitting totally earning a living. There is quitting a dysfunctional belief system, and there is quitting all relationships in favor of a belief system. Etc.
Seems like with quitting, there needs to be something clearly healthy to strive for on the other side of the fence.

An interesting question: Are we clear of what’s on the other side of Civilization? Are we ready to head naked into the wild? Not really! Perhaps that’s why with some things we don’t quit cold-turkey – there are a lot of little steps that need to be taken? (little quits) before the final vision is realized.

I agree with Leah – the use of what appears to be judgmental language as a motivational tool may backfire in the long run – quitting born out of fear of judgment is not directly connected to the issue – there is no real passion. That’s my current opinion.



Leah on November 27, 2011 at 8:00 pm.

The only time I was ever able to quit anything and have it stick was cold turkey. This goes for smoking, certain addictive foods, and even addictive relationships. I found that it made room for me to deal with what was underneath much more directly because it came up so quickly and so strongly.

Your post struck me, though, when you wrote:

“And then I realized I was one of them—I too favored the gradual approach. Did that mean I was a failure along with all those wannabe non-smokers?”

Yikes. I hear a real bully in these words–the harsh critic designed to keep oneself in line. To label yourself or anyone else as a “wannabe” isn’t really accurate–people struggling with addiction are just that. Along with the inaccuracy of a label like “failure.” Who fails? Under what standard? And for that matter, who succeeds? Remember, “make the least distinction/and the known and unknown will be/flung a world apart.” Being labeled a failure or a wannabe certainly wouldn’t help me quit smoking, especially in the long run. I’d just be doing it to please whoever saw me as a failure, including myself, and the quit would be tainted with that energy, rather than something that is actually real and sustainable.


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