How to Get Rid of Alcohol ShakesAnna Ciulla
It’s likely that you’re aware of the stigma that comes with being an alcoholic. It’s been written about in countless novels, highlighted in many films we know and love, and chances are you’ve experienced AUD (Alcohol Use Disorder) firsthand or through someone close to you. Yet, the scene of the alcoholic trembling and shaking because they haven’t had a drink may strike you as an extreme, or, if you’re reading this, it might be relatable.
To that end, alcohol shakes—also known as “tremors”—can take many different forms, and it often occurs during the alcohol detox process. Typically, people tend to label someone with the shakes as an “extreme” AUD sufferer, most likely in their later years of alcoholism. While this can certainly be the case (due to delirium tremens, which we’ll talk about further down), it is paramount that people understand how alcohol shakes manifest. Truth be told it can affect anyone at any point in their drinking.
If you’re currently dealing with shakes or other alcohol withdrawal symptoms, then read on to learn how to get rid of them.
What Causes Alcohol Shakes?
Alcohol is a depressant, meaning it works to suppress the CNS (central nervous system) and lower brain activity. That means, when ingested, alcohol works to lower heart rate, slow the respiratory system, and halt communication between certain neurons. Over time, the brain and the central nervous system become accustomed to this “lower standard” of operating.
In the case of the alcoholic dealing with shakes after cessation of drinking, what causes it is an overactive sympathetic nervous system. Now that alcohol is no longer in the picture, the brain and CNS can function properly. This stabilization becomes an overstimulation for the brain in its current form, which then produces what we know to be tremors.
If I’m Shaking, Does That Mean I’m An Alcoholic?
The answer to this question depends on context but, just because a person experiences shaking does not mean they meet the criteria for AUD. Many party-goers who have had one too many drinks the night prior awake dehydrated and hungover. Contrary to popular belief, the shakes felt during a hangover are a withdrawal symptom; again, this does not mean that the person is an alcoholic, only that their sympathetic nervous system is trying to stabilize.
In which case, what else can affect alcohol shakes?
There is a strong connection between anxiety and alcoholism, and it should be no surprise to you that anxiety can produce tremors. If you’ve experienced a bout of nervousness, then chances are at one point or another you felt the tremors take ahold of you. Being that extended alcohol use can lead to changes in the brain’s chemistry—not to mention damaged brain cells—it is often the case that anxiety accompanies alcohol withdrawal symptoms.
This anxiety is often the exact problem the AUD sufferer wishes to remedy, choosing alcohol as medicine. Being that this anxiety usually underlines the disorder, it too can produce tremors. This is amplified if the alcoholic is abstaining (we’re speaking mostly towards the initial period of detox here).
As the brain restores balance and regulates without the influence of alcohol, usually the anxiety subsides which lessens the severity of alcohol shakes.
Alcohol Shakes & Delirium Tremens
The association between alcohol shakes and DT (a nightmarish withdrawal symptom that can lead to death) boils down to seizures. Delirium tremens can produce seizures, withdrawal hallucinations, and in some cases it’ll slow the respiratory system to a crawl, leading to organ failure and, at times, a full system shutdown.
The link between the two is that when someone is experiencing DT, they’re often shaking. A clinical study done on DT states: “the withdrawal or abstinence syndrome is characterized by coarse tremor of the hands.” Their muscles spasm involuntarily and it goes without saying that a seizure produces violent tremors. It’s important to note that delirium tremens is rare and typically only occurs in weathered alcoholics with years of heavy alcohol consumption (about 5% of everyone that detoxes).
To that end, alcohol shakes are not interchangeable with delirium tremens but can be a subset symptom. Still, alcohol shakes can be a warning sign that something more than just an overstimulation of the CNS is occurring. If you or someone you know is currently struggling with noticeable alcohol shakes, it’s best to call a doctor or see an addiction specialist.
How Do You Get Rid of Alcohol Shakes?
The answer to this question largely depends on context. In which case, let’s first address the patient who does not have a history of alcohol abuse, nor do they suffer from AUD.
The Hangover Shakes
The “shaky hand” phenomenon can be a telltale sign that someone drank the night prior. The employee comes to work, sits at their desk, and can’t put the coffee up to their lips without it feeling like an earthquake rattles beneath them. If you’re experiencing the day-after alcohol shakes or shakes brought about from a binge, then know that abstaining from alcohol, hydrating, exercising, and time passed will usually remedy the situation.
While alcohol shakes can be both scary and uncomfortable, in the situation of someone who does not suffer from AUD, they usually subside. With that being said, drinking to the point of inducing shakes is an unhealthy behavior and can be a sign of alcohol dependence. Take the time to self-reflect upon your drinking habits to discern whether or not you have a problem.
The Alcohol Shakes
The alcohol shakes are usually not brought about because of one “bad” night or a binge; these come after prolonged alcohol use, gradually worsening over time. If this is what you or someone you know is experiencing, the severity can be measured by the nature of the shakes themselves.
Here are some important questions to answer before looking to get rid of alcohol shakes:
- Are your shakes unnoticeable to others?
- Are your shakes noticeable to others?
- Have your shakes been increasing in severity?
- When do your shakes typically occur? Is it throughout the day, in the mornings, or once you abstain from alcohol?
- For how long have you had noticeable alcohol shakes?
By answering these questions, you can usually gauge the severity of the shakes. Someone that’s been shaking for a year—in a way that’s noticeable to others—is going to have a different experience treating the shakes than someone who only just noticed a slight tremor.
In which case, now that you’ve addressed the problem, how do you go about fixing it?
The answer is detox.
Unfortunately, there is no miracle pill or medication that cures alcohol shakes. The shaking in itself is indicative of a bigger problem, one that needs to be addressed immediately. The only way to cure alcohol shakes is by going through a medical detox in an inpatient alcohol treatment center, abstaining from alcohol, and providing means for the brain and CNS to restore their natural balance.
Being that alcohol shakes are usually tied to alcohol use disorder, most addiction specialists will chart a course of recovery that extends well after the medical detox period. While we’ll address that further down, it’s important to mention that, during detox, the alcohol shakes will usually increase in intensity.
Being that the shakiness is a sign that the central nervous system is impaired—and given the nature of withdrawal symptoms from alcohol—detox will be executed under strict medical supervision. These experts will work to ease the mental and physical symptoms brought about by withdrawal, lessening their severity and comforting the patient as their body acclimates to the lack of alcohol.
Once detox is complete, most patients usually feel an immediate change in their alcohol shakes. The brain begins to restore its chemical balance, the central nervous system isn’t as “overstimulated,” and the shakes, even if they don’t subside, lessen in severity.
After detox, the patient will then be recommended a treatment plan. This can take the form of:
- An Inpatient Program: the patient will check into a rehab facility and stay for a number of days (usually 30 or more). Once there, they will have access to all the resources provided by the clinic. This means they’ll go through multiple different forms of therapy, meet peers struggling with the same addiction, and work to identify why they first started drinking heavily and if there are any co-occurring disorders under the surface.
Additionally, the clinicians will monitor the alcohol shakes, ensuring that the proper treatment is given if they persist (which can happen).
- An Outpatient Program: typically utilized by AUD suffers that have a moderate condition, an outpatient program allows the patient to live at home, go about their everyday lives, and only requires them to check into the clinic a certain amount of days throughout the week. The services offered are the same as an inpatient (therapy, counseling, relapse prevention, holistic training, etc.) program just with less frequency
Once this program has been completed, usually the alcohol shakes will have subsided immensely. Dependent on the patient, the dwindling of their shakes can take a bit longer, but eventually the CNS regains its stability.
Once addiction treatment is finished, aftercare is the final component to the continuation of sobriety. A quality-driven and holistic clinic like Beach House Recovery will provide:
- Regular Checkups & Medication Management: the client will undergo regular check-ins at the clinic, which can include drug testing. They will talk with the specialists that helped them along their journey, working to address the challenges of sobriety in the outside world. Additionally, if the client experienced medically-assisted treatment, their condition and medication intake will be monitored. Sometimes this means they will work to move away from medication as a whole. If the shakes persist, this allows the client to work towards a solution.
- Therapy: most things in life need some form of maintenance. Alcohol addiction treatment is no different. Maintenance therapy works to refuel the lessons and skills taught during treatment, reinforcing them to make them stronger. From relapse prevention techniques, CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), MI (Motivational Interviewing), and more, this therapy works to address how the client is fairing in the outside world, and then to produce solutions if problems arise.
While there is more that goes into aftercare, these two facets of it allow the client to fully mitigate their alcohol shakes. Clinicians, psychiatrists, and the entirety of the licensed medical team will be able to help them with their condition.
In an ideal world—and what typically occurs—the shaking will stop. Unfortunately, there are times where it persists well into aftercare. These cases are usually reserved for late-stage AUD sufferers with a long history of abuse.
The condition is often diagnosed as alcohol-induced brain damage.
Alcoholic Brain Damage
Over time, as alcohol is continuously used, the cerebellum (a part of the brain that governs balance and coordination) can be damaged. This usually takes around a decade to occur but the graduality makes the symptoms difficult to notice. It can begin as nothing more than a misstep and eventually manifest into a complete loss in motor function. One of the main physical symptoms of a damaged cerebellum is a chronic shaking of the hands.
If the alcohol shakes persist for months after abstinence, the addiction specialists will typically recommend that the patient see a neurologist. An MRI can identify shrinkage in the cerebellum, which is a sign that it has been damaged from alcohol. This can also be caused by nutritional deficiencies, which can be rectified by supplementing thiamine.
There are other causes of tremors due to alcohol but typically, it’s rooted in the brain. While liver disease from alcohol can cause asterixis, a condition which causes the hand to “flap,” this is usually a rarity.
We must note that alcohol can damage the brain and sympathetic nervous system to the point that alcohol shakes become chronic. If you are experiencing a shaking that’s somewhere between moderate and severe, it’s imperative that you quit drinking. Further alcohol consumption will only worsen the situation.
Stopping the Shakes
To an extent, anyone can experience alcohol shakes. The person that drinks once a year can awake the following morning with an unpleasant tremor in their hand, and the alcoholic can shake daily. By design, alcohol affects our sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our motor function.
Additionally, alcohol withdrawal shakes can be indicative of:
- A person is drinking to the point of toxicity
- Nerve damage
- Liver disease
- Brain damage
If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol shakes, it’s important that you reach out to a clinic like our Florida alcohol rehab center and get help today. The only way to stop the problem is by abstaining from alcohol, then digging deeper to ensure no permanent damage has been done. Odds in your favor and, over time, the alcohol withdrawal shakes will most likely subside.
- Psychiatry Journal. Social Anxiety, Tremor Severity, and Tremor Disability: A Search for Clinically Relevant Measures. July, 2013.
- Alcohol Health & Research World. Alcohol and the Cerebellum. Vol. 19, No.2. 1995
- Med J Armed Forces India. Delirium Tremens. July, 2011.