Why Does Alcohol Cause the Shakes

Why Does Alcohol Cause the Shakes

Authored by Pin Ng PhD

Edited by Hugh Soames

Reviewed by Michael Por, MD

Why does alcohol cause the shakes?

Shakes and tremors are common when an individual suffering from alcohol abuse stops drinking. Tremors are involuntary and occur in one or more areas of the body. Alcohol tremors can occur from time to time or constantly in the body of the sufferer.

There are two potential reasons that a person suffers from shakes and tremors. Acute alcohol withdrawal and excessive alcohol abuse can make a person shake. The area of the brain that controls muscle movement is responsible for the tremors that a person experiences in their hands, arms, legs, or other body parts. Shakes are not life threatening. However, they can be disabling and embarrassing for the person that experiences them. Shakes from alcohol withdrawal or abuse can make it difficult for a person to complete daily tasks.

Alcohol withdrawal can be life-threatening due to the trauma the body experiences as alcohol leaves the system. A person going through alcohol withdrawal should be monitored by a trained medical professional. The individual will be made comfortable by the medical professional and will ensure that the process is done safely.

A detox program depends on the intensity of the person’s alcohol abuse. Detox may not be enough to stop a person from drinking and abusing alcohol in the future. Anyone addicted to alcohol should complete a treatment program while practicing abstinence from alcohol.

Developing the shakes, why does alcohol cause the shakes?

Alcohol shakes may start within five to 10 hours after an individual’s last drink. A person who consumes large amounts of alcohol may wake up in the morning suffering from the shakes. This may influence the person to consume more alcohol to steady the way they feel. Alcohol shakes may hit their peak around 24 to 78 hours after they consume their last drink. Tremors can last for multiple weeks or even longer.

Alcohol withdrawal can cause mild to severe side effects. Some side effects can be life-threatening and lead to death. A person experiencing withdrawal often experiences sweating, anxiety, headaches, nausea, insomnia, tremors/shakes, and vomiting. In some cases, a person can experience hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens when going through withdrawal. Alcohol induced shakes are not the same as delirium tremens.1https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085800/

Delirium tremens are intense and potentially deadly. You may experience a racing heartbeat, continuous sweating, confusion, vivid hallucinations, and delusions when experiencing delirium tremens. Around 4% to 5% of people going through alcohol withdrawal suffer from delirium tremens. Individuals who suffered from long-term alcohol abuse are most at risk to experience delirium tremens.

Side effects such as sweating and vomiting may not seem serious. However, these symptoms are just as dangerous as others. They too can lead to death. The seriousness of detox can lead to grave consequences and is a reason to have medical supervision to oversee any detox program.

Why do individuals going through alcohol withdrawal suffer from symptoms?

Alcohol produces a depressant effect. It slows down the brain’s functions and lowers energy levels. The brain adapts to alcohol over time and as you increase the level of consumption, your brain grows accustomed to it. The brain attempts to overcome alcohol’s depressant effect and increases nerve activity. This is done to keep the body in a state of heightened alertness.

When a person stops taking alcohol, the brain continues to work as if it is overcoming the depressant effect of alcohol. The brain struggles to adapt to lower levels of alcohol and withdrawal symptoms begin. The brain attempts to return to a state of normal which causes the withdrawal symptoms.

Withdrawal symptoms differ in each person due to severity and duration of alcohol abuse. Symptoms can be affected by how long a person drinks alcohol, how much they consume, and how regularly the individual has consumed it. A person’s gender, weight, age, family history of addiction, and use of other addictive substances can also play a part in the severity of symptoms. Co-occurring mental or physical health conditions can be affected by a person’s withdrawal symptoms.

Is there a treatment for alcohol shakes?

Supervised detox is the safest option for an individual during withdrawal. Withdrawal can be deadly at its worst, therefore, having someone to supervise it is important to keeping a person as safe as possible.

Detox is a way to clear the body of alcohol and manage withdrawal symptoms. Alcohol will leave the body within a few days of stopping the drinking of alcohol. Alcohol cravings, shakes/tremors, and other withdrawal symptoms may linger for longer. After the body is free of alcohol, a person can start addiction treatment.2https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4606320/

Alcohol treatment programs may be inpatient or outpatient. They often include individual and group therapy sessions. An individual may also attend family counseling, alcohol education, 12-step support sessions, and therapy for physical or psychological needs. Treatment programs work with and treat clients on their co-occurring disorders at the same time as alcohol recovery treatment.

Long-term and successful alcohol recovery occurs when an individual is committed to their alcohol rehab program. A person must commit to changing their lifestyle to stay alcohol free.

How to stop the alcohol shakes

There are some ways that you can stop the alcohol shakes.

By completing these steps, you can ensure you limit, reduce, and/or stop the alcohol shakes.

  • Drink a lot of water and non-caffeinated beverages. Staying hydrated helps to flush the body of toxins.
  • Start a nutritious diet and eliminate sugary foods, which cause alcohol shakes to be worse. High-protein, lean meats are good to help the body become healthier.
  • Use stress management methods, techniques, and tools.
  • Stay busy with activities which helps to reduce cravings and reduce your stress.
  • Get plenty of sleep each night. Insomnia is an issue that people suffering from alcohol abuse often experience.
  • Build a personal support network to help manage your stress and to stay alcohol free.
  • Continue to attend and work on your rehab program.

Alcohol shakes can make life difficult, uncomfortable, and embarrassing. However, with a little help and rehab, you can alleviate the issues of the alcohol shakes and stop them from occurring.

References: Why does alcohol cause the shakes

  1. Rogawski MA. Update on the neurobiology of alcohol withdrawal seizures. Epilepsy Curr. 2005;5:225–30. [PMC free article] []
  2. Tovar R. Diagnosis and treatment of alcohol withdrawal & Why does alcohol cause the shakes. J Clin Outcomes Manag. 2011;18:361–70. []
  3. Lal R. Pharmacotherapy of substance use disorders. In: Lal R, editor. Substance Use Disorders: Manual for Physicians. New Delhi: National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; 2005. []
  4. Dubovsky SL. Benzodiazepine receptor agonists and antagonists. In: Sadock BJ, Virginia A, Ruiz P, editors. Kaplan and Sadock’s Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry. 9th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins; 2009. []
  5. Saitz R, Mayo-Smith MF, Roberts MS, Redmond HA, Bernard DR, Calkins DR. Individualized treatment for alcohol withdrawal. A randomized double-blind controlled trial. JAMA. 1994;272:519–23. [PubMed] []
  6. Hjermø I, Anderson JE, Fink-Jensen A, Allerup P, Ulrichsen J. Phenobarbital versus diazepam for delirium tremens – A retrospective study. Dan Med Bull. 2010;57:A4169. []
  7. Baines M, Bligh JG, Madden JS. Tissue thiamin levels of hospitalised alcoholics before and after oral or parenteral vitamins. Alcohol Alcohol. 1988;23:49–52. [PubMed] []
  8. World Bank. World Development Report 1993: Investing in Health. New York: Oxford University Press; []
  9. Chabria SB. Inpatient management of alcohol withdrawal: A practical approach. Signa Vitae. 2008;3:24–29. []
  10. Craft PP, Foil MB, Cunningham PRG, Patselas PC, Long-Snyder BM, Collier MS. Intravenous ethanol for alcohol detoxification in trauma patients. Southern Medical Journal. 1994;87:47–54. [PubMed] []
  11. Sachdeva A, Chandra M, Deshpande SN. A Comparative Study of Why does alcohol cause the shakes. Alcohol Alcohol. 2014;49(3):287–91. [PubMed] []
  12. Lal R. Substance Use Disorders: Manual for Physicians. New Delhi: National Drug Dependence Treatment Center, All India Institute of Medical Sciences; 2005. Pharmacotherapy of substance use disorders. In: Lal R, editor. []
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