When a person with a chronic alcohol use disorder (AUD) quits or reduces their alcohol intake abruptly, they may experience a wide range of alcohol withdrawal symptoms within six hours after their last drink. One of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is alcohol shakes, also known as alcohol tremors.
Shaking or trembling is a frequent symptom of alcohol withdrawal, but it can also indicate a more serious problem and consequence related to alcohol abuse. Knowing the risks associated with alcohol tremors will help you recognize the symptoms and know when to seek medical attention. Early diagnosis and treatment for alcohol addiction or dependence can be crucial for preventing alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) and the possible dangers and repercussions of alcohol abuse.
What Causes Withdrawal Shakes?
Alcohol shakes result from the effects of alcohol on the brain. The hands are the most typical site of tremors and shakes, although other body parts, including the arms and legs, may also be affected. These rhythmic shaking usually begin 6-10 hours after the last drink and peak around 48-72 hours after the last drink. These withdrawal shakes can lead to a shaky voice, difficulty holding utensils, and even affect your mobility. Acute alcohol withdrawal and excessive alcohol consumption are the two potential causes of tremors.
A malfunction in the regions of the brain that govern the body’s muscles causes involuntary shaking. Regular consumption of alcohol alters the function and production of neurotransmitters in the brain. The absence of alcohol can cause these neurotransmitters to become imbalanced. As a result, the brain has difficulties controlling the fine motor muscles and sends unexpected electrical signals to your body, resulting in tremors.
Other Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal
Alcohol withdrawal syndrome can range from mild to severe depending on the individual’s gender, weight, age, family history of addiction, medical history, the severity of physical dependence, and the amounts of alcohol consumed.
In addition to alcohol shakes, individuals may also experience withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Increased heart rate
- Low blood sugar
- High blood pressure
According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, around 2% of individuals with alcohol use disorder also experience Delirium Tremens (DTs) during alcohol withdrawal. Delirium Tremens is a severe form of alcohol withdrawal syndrome that causes body tremors, high blood pressure, hallucinations, paranoia, fever, and alcohol withdrawal seizures. DTs is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention.
Delirium Tremens vs. Withdrawal Shakes
The first, mildest withdrawal stage often occurs six to 12 hours after the last drink. Mild-stage symptoms may include shakes, anxiety, nausea, headache, sweating, and depression.
The second moderate withdrawal stage occurs between 12 and 48 hours following the last drink. Moderate symptoms include breathing difficulties, hypertension, rapid heartbeat, profuse sweating, irritability, fever, and confusion.
During the most severe stage of alcohol withdrawal, the patient’s health decline is evident. As such, the patient will require medical supervision during the 48 to 72-hour period. The onset of DTs normally occurs during this stage of withdrawal. DTs often last three to four days, but they can last up to eight days in some individuals.
Medically assisted detox in a rehabilitation facility is highly recommended for individuals who wish to stop drinking. These treatment programs can help reduce the risks of DTs and improve your chance of prolonged recovery.
How Much Alcohol Causes Withdrawal Shakes?
Alcohol shakes are the result of heavy drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) defines heavy drinking as consuming four or more drinks a day for men and more than three drinks a day for women. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more drinks for males, or four or more drinks for females, within two hours. Individuals who binge drink are also at risk of experiencing withdrawal shakes.
How Long Do Withdrawal Shakes Last?
The duration of withdrawal shakes differs from person to person based on the degree of alcohol dependency. Withdrawal shakes can start between six and 10 hours after the last drink and subside after 72 hours. However, it can last for several weeks or longer for some individuals.
Why Do Alcoholics Shake?
Alcohol shakes are the result of chronic or long-term alcohol abuse. Long-term alcoholics will have alcohol shakes due to brain damage, liver disease (cirrhosis), or Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome. If sufficient scar tissue prevents the liver from eliminating ammonia and other toxins from the bloodstream, alcoholics with cirrhosis of the liver may experience uncontrollable shaking. The Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome is typically diagnosed in alcoholics with significant thiamine deficiency resulting from malnutrition. Memory loss, alcohol shakes, and the inability to walk without assistance are symptoms of Wernicke-Korsakoff.
Can You Experience Shakes During Recovery?
Some individuals may experience alcohol tremors after a period of abstinence. Alcoholics in recovery who have been sober for one year may sometimes experience alcohol tremors at odd intervals throughout the day. Recovering alcoholics may acquire a permanent postural tremor defined by the inability to maintain a precise position, such as standing on one foot or extending an arm for prolonged periods.
Treatment for Withdrawal Shakes
Since withdrawal symptoms vary by individual, the optimal treatment for tremors also varies according to the intensity of withdrawal. Depending on your condition, there are numerous treatment options for alcohol withdrawal and associated symptoms. The most recommended option is a medically assisted alcohol detoxification program.
Detoxification involves the removal of alcohol from the body as well as the treatment of withdrawal symptoms. Although alcohol will be cleared from the body in a few days, withdrawal symptoms such as cravings and tremors may last much longer. This could result in a relapse. As such, once the alcohol is removed from the body, the patient must undergo addiction treatment in an inpatient or outpatient setting.
Inpatient or outpatient addiction treatment typically involves counseling, evidence-based behavioral therapy, and aftercare support.
If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol dependence or addiction, Futures Recovery Healthcare is here for you. Futures assists individuals in gaining a foothold in recovery and developing a plan to maintain long-term health and well-being.
How to Prevent Withdrawal Shakes
Committing to an effective alcohol treatment program provides the best chance for long-term recovery. It also involves making lifestyle changes to keep you physically and mentally healthy. There are many ways to regain control of your sobriety and live a better life. These include:
- Staying hydrated and avoiding caffeinated beverages – Staying hydrated help in removing toxins from the body, which may reduce shakes and other withdrawal symptoms. You can improve your cellular metabolism by consuming electrolyte-rich beverages to correct the imbalance caused by alcohol.
- Adopting a nutritious diet – Follow a diet rich in whole grains, lean proteins, vegetables, and fruits. Your healthcare provider may recommend vitamin and mineral supplements, as vitamin deficiencies are common with alcohol use disorder.
- Practicing stress management techniques – Therapies such as yoga, meditation, mindfulness, and acupuncture help manage stress and foster a sense of well-being and positive thinking. Studies show that these practices can benefit people recovering from withdrawal or alcohol dependence.
- Fostering relations with your support network – Family members and friends who understand and support your recovery goals are invaluable assets. The more people you trust in your network to support you on your journey, the more likely you will succeed.
- Continuing to work on your recovery program – Upon completing your inpatient or outpatient treatment program, follow-up aftercare is essential for a successful long-term recovery.
A healthy lifestyle, combined with treatment, helps all parts of your life. The more your physical and mental health improves, the less likely you are to experience withdrawal shakes or other residual withdrawal symptoms, and the greater quality of life you will enjoy.