Updated on April 3, 2024
7 min read

What Are Alcohol Shakes (Tremors)?

What are Alcohol Shakes (Tremors)?

Alcohol shakes, or tremors, occur when a long-term or heavy drinker stops consuming alcohol. It can vary from person to person, but they are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol Shakes or tremors:

  • Are rhythmic
  • Are uncontrollable
  • Tend to occur in the hands and fingers
  • Occasionally experienced in heads, arms, eyes, and voice
  • Can sometimes be uncomfortable or painful

These shakes can be so light they're barely noticeable. They can also be severe and interfere with normal functioning. 

Symptoms of Alcohol Tremors

Body shakes are the most apparent symptom of alcohol tremors. If you experience alcohol tremors, here’s what you can expect:

  • Shaking begins 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 is a potentially fatal condition linked to alcohol withdrawal. The condition is rare but requires medical attention.3 

Are Tremors Dangerous?

Alcohol shakes aren't life-threatening. However, alcohol withdrawal can be fatal.

If you are experiencing alcohol withdrawal, seek medical attention immediately, especially if you’ve been drinking heavily for a long time.

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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. On the other hand, DTs is rare and occurs in about 10 percent of alcohol abuse cases.7

When shaking occurs with the following, it could signify DTs:

  • Anxiety
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Insomnia
  • Hallucinations

Why am I Shaking with a Hangover?

After a heavy drinking session, your brain can get used to lower levels of stimulation caused by alcohol’s depressant effects. When you wake up, your brain becomes overwhelmed with activity, triggering tremors and shaking during a hangover.

The frequency and intensity of your tremors can depend on the severity of your alcohol drinking. Shaking during a hangover can be a sign of a serious condition. If this is happening to you, seek medical attention.

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 experienced shaking, talk to a doctor. It’s essential to seek medical attention to ensure the issue is unrelated to DTs.


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Causes of Alcohol Shakes

There are three possible causes of alcohol shakes. They include:

1. Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur because the body relies on alcohol to function. When you stop drinking, your body has to adjust to working without alcohol.

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Nightmares
  • Mood swings
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Sweating
  • High blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Headache
  • Hallucinations
  • Delirium tremens (DTs)

2. Alcohol-Related Brain Damage 

Alcohol-related brain damage (ARBD) or 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 minor changes in your ability to think or remember things. You might also experience mild cognitive impairment. Continued drinking with ARBD or ARBI puts you at risk for severe brain damage, including dementia.

3. Alcohol-Related Liver Disease

The liver is severely affected when you drink excessive amounts of alcohol. It must work harder to rid your body of toxins like alcohol than 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 that occurs when fat collects in the liver because it can't function properly
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: An inflammation of the liver that occurs when there is cell death in the liver
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: An irreversible type of alcohol-related liver disease caused by scar tissue in the liver

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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 your:

  • Electrolytes
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Overall bodily functions

During withdrawal, the initial phase of treatment includes:

  • IV fluids
  • Vitamin supplements
  • Medication

These treatments help with the following symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting
  • Hallucinations

During treatment, doctors may use Primidone (Mysoline) and Propranolol (Inderal) to treat alcohol shakes. Surgical procedures such as deep brain stimulation and thalamotomy are sometimes recommended for treating alcohol tremors in the limbs. However, surgery rarely cures head or vocal tremors.8

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 reduce tremors. The more time you spend with people encouraging your alcohol-free lifestyle, the better your chance of successful recovery.

3. Eat a Healthy Diet

Eating healthy plays a significant 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:

  • Vegetables
  • Fresh fruits
  • Whole grains

4. Stress Management

Managing stress helps you control feeling jittery and avoid alcohol. There are many tools available, including:

  • Meditation
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Yoga
  • Physical exercises

5. Keep Yourself Busy

Make sure you enjoy plenty of activities 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 to help you avoid alcohol shakes.

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Are Tremors Always a Sign of Alcoholism? 

Tremors are not always a sign of alcoholism, as there are many causes of tremors. Alcohol shakes are a symptom of the disorder when they occur with other signs of AUD.

Symptoms of Alcoholism

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 of 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

Treatment Options for Alcoholism

If you are struggling with AUD, you should consider seeking medical help. Although there is no cure for alcoholism, various treatment options can help you recover.

These include:


Alcohol shakes, or tremors, are common side effects of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Tremors usually begin after 5-10 hours of your last drink and can last up to 72 hours.

Alcohol shakes are typically caused by withdrawal, brain damage, and liver disease. Although the tremors themselves aren’t dangerous, alcohol withdrawal symptoms are. 

Fortunately, there are ways to reduce alcohol tremors. If you’re experiencing them alongside other symptoms of alcoholism, seek medical attention.

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Updated on April 3, 2024

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