Cold turkey wrong way to quit the bottle, experts warn after Winehouse death

TORONTO – Alcoholics everywhere are being warned not to go cold turkey when trying to put down the bottle following reports singer Amy Winehouse ignored her doctor’s advice to cut down on her heavy drinking gradually.

Britain’s Sun tabloid is citing family sources as saying the 27-year-old “Rehab” singer died a week ago as a result of a seizure brought on by a sudden three-week abstinence from booze.

According to the report, the family believes her tiny frame could not cope with the loss of alcohol in her veins after many years of binge drinking.

Now, Canadian addiction specialists are confirming that such a dramatic withdrawal from drugs or alcohol can indeed prove lethal.

“To go to zero is extremely dangerous because the body develops a level of chemical requirement,” said Rob Hadley, program director at the Vancouver Addiction Centre.

“To not have that met, one literally does go into shock.”

Quitting requires addicts to get treatment from professionals that will reduce dependency without risking their health, he said.

The Vancouver Addiction Centre eases addicts onto less concentrated alcohols such as beer or wine for one to two weeks and gradually eases them down from there, said Hadley.

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Alcohol slows the heart down because it’s a depressant, said Daniel Jordan, the director of the Sunshine Coast Health Centre. This can cause those who are attempting to quit cold turkey to suffer a seizure or heart attack.

Unlike the Vancouver Addiction Centre, Jordan’s facility gives alcoholics Valium in order to reduce the risk of injury in attempting to quit.

“Alcohol is one of the most dangerous drugs to detox from,” said Jordan. “The chance of dying from a withdrawal from alcohol is actually much more dangerous than heroin.”

Addicts should only continue drinking alcohol to ease themselves off of their dependency if they don’t have access to a hospital or an addiction centre where they can get help, said Jordan.

Winehouse, who was found dead in her London apartment last Saturday, had struggled for years with drugs and alcohol.

She had managed to quit her drug dependency three years before her death, her father said at her funeral. But Mitch Winehouse also said she was struggling to control her drinking after a few weeks of abstinence.

An autopsy conducted on her body this week did not determine the cause of her death. Police are now awaiting toxicology tests, which they expect will take two to four weeks. Her family has not confirmed the reports that they believe she died from withdrawal.

The singer won five Grammy Awards for her 2006 release “Back to Black.” She released one other album titled “Frank.”

– With files from The Associated Press.