Alcohol Shakes or Tremors (Causes & Treatment)
In This Article
What are Alcohol Shakes (Tremors)?
Alcohol shakes or tremors occur when a long-term and/or heavy drinker stops consuming alcohol.
Side effects vary from person to person. However, alcohol shakes are one of the most common symptoms of withdrawal and excessive alcohol consumption.
Alcohol Shakes or tremors:
- Are rhythmic
- Are uncontrollable
- Tend to occur in the hands and fingers
Some people experience tremors in their heads, arms, eyes, and voice. Sometimes, pain or discomfort accompanies shaking.
These shakes can be so light they're barely noticeable. They can also be severe and interfere with normal functioning. Alcohol shakes aren't life-threatening.
Alcohol withdrawal can be fatal, though. It’s essential to seek medical attention during alcohol withdrawal, especially after heavy, long-term use.
Why am I Shaking with a Hangover?
Many people experience shaking when they're hungover.
Most often, shaking occurs because alcohol use has affected a person’s nervous system cells. Alcohol interferes with brain activity and causes a depressant effect. The brain grows used to lower levels of stimulation.
When someone stops drinking, their brain is flooded with activity. The hyperactivity is stimulated.
This is what triggers tremors and shaking. The longer and more heavily someone drinks, the more frequent and severe the shaking.
Shaking during a hangover can be a sign of a serious medical condition. You should seek medical attention if you experience shaking as the effects of drinking alcohol wear off.
Symptoms of Alcohol Tremors
Body shakes are the most obvious symptoms of alcohol tremors.
If you experience alcohol tremors, you can expect:
- Shaking to begin about 24 to 72 hours after your last drink
- Rhythmic shaking, most often in the hands
- Shaky voice
- Problems holding or controlling items
Tremors might be a sign of delirium tremens (DTs). DTs are a potentially fatal condition linked to alcohol withdrawal. The condition is rare but requires medical attention.3
How Long Do Tremors Last?
Tremors usually begin within 5 to 10 hours after someone’s last drink. They peak within 24 to 48 hours and gradually taper off. How long they last is different for each person.
If you’ve recently stopped consuming alcohol and you experience shaking, it’s essential to seek medical attention to ensure the issue is not related to DTs.
Causes of Alcohol Tremors
There are three possible causes of alcohol tremors.
1. Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur because the body becomes reliant on alcohol to function. When someone stops drinking, their body must adjust to functioning without alcohol.
Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:
- Mood swings
- Nausea and vomiting
- High blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
- Delirium tremens (DTs)
2. Alcohol-Related Brain Damage
Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) or alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) are brain disorders caused by long-term, heavy alcohol consumption. They usually affect people between the ages of 40 and 50.
Symptoms of ARBD and ARBI include small changes in a person’s ability to think or remember things. They might also experience mild cognitive impairment.
Continued drinking puts someone with ARBD or ARBI at risk for severe brain damage, including dementia.
3. Alcohol-Related Liver Disease
The liver is severely affected when someone consumes alcohol. It must work harder to rid the body of toxins like alcohol than it does other substances.
Binge drinking or heavy long-term drinking is especially damaging to the liver.
Alcohol use triggers three alcohol-related liver diseases, including:
- Fatty liver disease, an early stage of alcohol-related liver disease. It occurs when fat collects in the liver because the organ can't perform optimally. It has very few symptoms, but some people experience right-side discomfort.
- Alcoholic hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver. It occurs when there is cell death in the liver. About a third of all heavy drinkers develop this condition. Symptoms include fever, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain.
- Alcoholic cirrhosis is the most severe type of alcohol-related liver disease. It occurs when liver cells die and are replaced with scar tissue, drastically affecting liver functioning. It develops over time and is a life-threatening condition if someone continues drinking.
Are Tremors Always a Sign of Alcoholism?
No. There are many different causes of tremors.
Even if a person is a heavy drinker, tremors alone don't guarantee the person has AUD. However, they're a symptom of the disorder when they occur with other signs of AUD.
Over time, heavy alcohol consumption causes problems within the brain. When someone drinks a lot and then stops drinking, the body must adjust. This triggers hyperactivity in the brain and nervous system, leading to shaking.
Alcohol shakes with other symptoms of withdrawal suggest a physical alcohol dependence.
Symptoms of alcoholism or alcohol use disorder (AUD) include:
- Drinking more than you intend to
- Failure to cut back or eliminate alcohol consumption
- Frequent periods being drunk or hungover
- Obsession with drinking alcohol
- Problems at work or school
- Relationship problems linked to drinking
- Spending more time drinking than doing things you once enjoyed
- Engaging in risky behaviors because of drinking
- Drinking despite feeling bad or damaging your health
- Drinking more and more to experience the same effects
- Experiencing withdrawal symptoms when you do not drink
Alcohol Shakes vs. Delirium Tremens (DTs)
Alcohol shakes and delirium tremens (DTs) are not the same. However, they can co-occur.
Shaking is a common symptom of heavy alcohol consumption and withdrawal. DTs, on the other hand, is a rare condition that occurs in only about 10 percent of alcohol abuse cases.7
Tremors and shaking are symptoms of DTs.
When shaking occurs with the following, it could signify DTs:
Treatment Options for Alcohol Tremors
Alcohol withdrawal is most safely treated in a medically supervised environment. During this time, doctors monitor a person’s vital signs and address serious complications immediately.
Medical supervision also includes an assessment of someone’s:
- Vitamin deficiencies
- Overall bodily functions
During withdrawal, the initial phase of treatment includes:
- IV fluids
- Vitamin supplements
These treatments help with the following symptoms, and more:
Several medications are available for treating alcohol shakes, including:
- Primidone (Mysoline)
- Propranolol (Inderal)
Surgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation and thalamotomy are recommended for treating alcohol tremors in the limbs. Surgery rarely cures head or vocal tremors.
Trying to Get Rid of Alcohol Shakes Yourself
If you experience alcohol shakes, you may be on the path to more dangerous withdrawal symptoms. It isn't a good idea to try and get rid of alcohol shakes alone. They could lead to more severe mental and physical health issues.
There are methods you can take to reduce alcohol shakes. These include rehydrating and taking vitamins.
However, it's best to seek professional treatment to manage your withdrawal symptoms in most cases.
How To Reduce Alcohol Tremors in Recovering Alcoholics
There are many things recovering alcoholics can do to avoid tremors and reduce the risk of relapse, alongside medical support. For example:
1. Keep Up With Your Recovery Process
Committing to the alcohol recovery process is the best way to keep tremors at bay. Over time, your body adjusts to being alcohol-free, and you won’t experience withdrawal symptoms.
Not drinking breaks the cycle of consuming and withdrawing from alcohol.
2. Build a Support Group
Friends and family are valuable tools for helping you stay alcohol-free and reducing tremors. The more time you spend with people who encourage your alcohol-free lifestyle, the better chance you’ll have of successful recovery.
3. Eat a Healthy Diet
Eating healthy plays a major role in a person’s successful recovery. When your body receives the nutrients it needs, it feels better, and you’re less tempted to drink.
Consider a diet including the following healthy foods:
- Fresh fruits
- Whole grains
4. Stress Management
Managing stress helps you control feeling jittery and avoid alcohol.
There are many tools available for managing stress, including:
- Deep breathing exercises
- Physical exercises like dance, swimming, and cardiovascular activity
5. Keep Yourself Busy
Make sure there are plenty of activities you enjoy to help you avoid alcohol. Busy people are less tempted to drink.
6. Stay Hydrated
Alcohol shakes are reduced when you flush the toxins out of your system. Staying hydrated also helps you feel better, sleep better, and feel full without consuming too many calories.
7. Don’t Drink Caffeine
You’ll also want to eliminate foods and beverages that make you feel jittery. Caffeine is one of those substances.
Caffeine can make you feel shaky even if your body isn't reacting to a lack of alcohol.
8. Get Enough Sleep
Lack of sleep makes you shaky. It also reduces your ability to function and make healthy choices.
Seven to nine hours of quality sleep is one of the most powerful tools you have to help you avoid alcohol shakes.
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- “Alcohol-Related Brain Damage (ARBD): What Is It and Who Gets It?” Alzheimer’s Society
- “Chronic Alcoholic Liver Disease | Treatment, Signs, & Damage.” Alcohol.org
- “Delirium Tremens (DTs): Practice Essentials, Background, Pathophysiology.” EMedicine, 8 Oct. 2020
- National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 14 Sept. 2011
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Alcohol Withdrawal - Harvard Health.” Harvard Health, Harvard Health, 22 Apr. 2019
- Koller, W et al. “Tremor in chronic alcoholism.” Neurology vol. 35,11 : 1660-2
- Trevisan, L A et al. “Complications of alcohol withdrawal: pathophysiological insights.” Alcohol health and research world vol. 22,1 : 61-6.