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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).
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.
In the case of dependence upon certain drugs, including opiates such as heroin, going cold turkey may be extremely unpleasant, but less dangerous. Life-threatening issues are unlikely without a pre-existing medical condition.
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), Joel Spitzer and John R. Polito (smoking cessation educators whose work is free at WhyQuit.com) and Allen Carr (who founded Easyway® during the early 1980s) are cold turkey plans.
There are several explanations of the phrase's origin: