Cold Turkey – Meaning, Origin and Usage

Are you looking for a way to quit smoking? You could always try the method of going “cold turkey.” This post unpacks the meaning and origin of this expression.


The expression “cold turkey” means to stop something abruptly, without any support. The phrase usually applies to substance abuse cases. A person may be addicted to hard drugs, like opioids, where quitting them without any supporting medication leads to withdrawals.

This type of cessation strategy, with no support, is known as “cold turkey.” You probably hear people use the saying when they are quitting smoking without the assistance of nicotine replacement therapy, like the patch or gum.

Quitting a substance using the cold turkey method seems to be the most effective route of cessation. However, it’s also the most challenging. People that use cold turkey to quit substances undergo withdrawals that are incredibly uncomfortable and sometimes painful.

There are also times when a person can’t go cold turkey with certain drugs. They require a tapering strategy where the patient weans themselves off the drug over a few months.

Example Usage

“Today is three months since I stopped smoking. I quit cold turkey, and it was way easier than I thought.”

“I’ve tried quitting smoking using patches, gum, everything. I’m giving up on it, and I’m going to try and stop cold turkey.”

“You can’t just come off Xanax cold turkey; you’ll get a seizure and maybe die. You need to taper off. Speak to your doctor.”

“Quitting booze cold turkey was a nightmare, but I had to do it. I’m glad I didn’t need to check myself into rehab, but the withdrawal was pretty bad.”

“Withdrawing from opioids is the worst thing ever. You feel sick all the time, and you just want more painkillers. The only way to deal with it is to quit cold turkey and never look back.”

“If you’re going to quit, then do it cold turkey. It might be hard, and you’ll suffer, but it’s the only strategy that works.”

“Quitting cold turkey is terrible. The withdrawal symptoms are mind-wrecking. I found it much easier to quit smoking with NRT patches.”


The expression “cold turkey” originates from the older expressions “talking turkey” or “talking cold turkey,” meaning people who were upfront with each other during conversation. They would beat around the bush and get to the point timeously.

The phrase changed its meaning to situations where people would abruptly stop doing an action or task.

The earliest use of “cold turkey” in print comes from The Daily Colonist newspaper in 1921. The article refers to the modern use of the saying with it, referring to drug withdrawal. The post has the expression appearing as follows.

“Perhaps the most pitiful figures who have appeared before Dr. Carleton Simon are those who voluntarily surrender themselves. When they go before him, they [drug addicts] are given what is called the ‘cold turkey’ treatment.”

Phrases Similar to Cold Turkey

  • On the wagon.
  • Abstinence syndrome.
  • Cease and desist.

Phrases Opposite to Cold Turkey

  • Supported withdrawal.
  • Withdrawal therapy.

What is the Correct Saying?

  • Cold turkey.

Ways People May Say Cold Turkey Incorrectly

The phrase has nothing to do with turkeys or cold cuts. It describes a method of detoxifying yourself from substances without any chemical support, such as nicotine gum. The phrase has nothing to do with turkeys feeling cold.

Acceptable Ways to Phrase Cold Turkey

You can use the phrase “cold turkey” when describing the process of withdrawal without any assistance from replacement therapies. It’s more common for people to refer to this phrase as withdrawal from smoking cigarettes. However, it can describe withdrawal from any drug or medication. The term suits social and professional use.

You could tell the boss that now the market has to crash because it's going through cold turkey after the Fed removed its accommodation policy. At home, you could say you’re experiencing hectic withdrawal symptoms after quitting smoking cold turkey.

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