Cold Turkey Means Damaging Inflammation
Scientists are just beginning to learn more about long-term effects of inflammation on the body, and they can now add a new source for it: Quitting drugs cold turkey can increase levels of damaging inflammation.
Inflammation is the body’s immune system response to anything. If a mosquito bites you, the immune system inflames the skin, making it swell and itch. Overall, inflammation is a good response because it means your immune system is working to protect you. Chronic inflammation is another story, where the research is in its infancy. Scientists are just beginning to learn how it affects health in the long run. Inflammation may be a contributing factor to heart attacks. Poor dental hygiene can lead to a permanent state of inflammation of the gums and affects heart disease risk. Inflammation may also increase the risk for certain cancers and Alzheimer’s disease.
Now a new study addresses what happens with quitting drugs cold turkey. Researchers at Georgetown University Medical Center studied animals addicted to morphine. Animals that were addicted to morphine were treated either with lower doses of morphine during withdrawal or had no treatment. Each group had opposite results. Those treated during morphine withdrawal had more protective proteins and fewer damaging inflammatory cytokines. Those made to quit cold turkey had more of those cytokines.
The animals that quit cold turkey also experienced mental decline. Physicians see mental disorders coupled with substance abuse all the time, a condition called dual diagnosis. But this study indicates that withdrawal can be a physical contributing factor to a mental effect. That may not be a surprising result. Recent studies on Alzheimer’s disease point to chronic inflammation as a contributing factor and possibly a trigger for the disease.
For people struggling with addiction, this new study seems to point toward professional treatment for substance abuse. Drug rehab programs begin with a medical detox to wean the patient off drugs safely. There’s no cold turkey when the right medications are used over a period of time, so patients stay comfortable and safe. At the same time, they can begin their rehab treatment, getting the tools they need to stay clean and deal with their lives in the outside world.