Understanding Alcohol Shakes

Oct 2023 Understanding Alcohol Shakes

Some people experience shakiness, primarily in their hands, in the aftermath of drinking binges. Others have tremors when they are trying to quit drinking for good. What are the alcohol shakes, and how concerned should someone be if they develop them?

How Does Alcohol Cause the Shakes?

Alcohol shakes are a type of withdrawal symptom. This means that they are a reaction that occurs due to the absence of alcohol in a person’s system. Here’s how this can happen:

  • When a person drinks alcohol, this drug can prompt their central nervous system (CNS) to produce additional amounts of a neurotransmitter called γ-aminobutyric acid, or GABA.
  • GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that it diminishes the ability of neurons to send and receive messages. GABA can elicit pleasurable feelings such as serenity and euphoria.
  • Alcohol’s effects on the CNS also include suppressing the production of a neurotransmitter called glutamate, which has the opposite effect that GABA does. Glutamate excites neurons, which speeds up their functioning.
  • When a person stops drinking, their body may be temporarily unable to produce additional GABA. However, glutamate levels typically increase once their production is no longer limited by the presence of alcohol.
  • The effects of this GABA-glutamate imbalance can include tics, tremors, or what many people refer to as the alcohol shakes.

Are Alcohol Shakes Dangerous?

Alcohol shakes themselves don’t usually pose a significant danger – but they can be a sign that something is seriously wrong.

As we established in the previous section, alcohol shakes are a withdrawal symptom. If you frequently develop shakes after a night of drinking, this could indicate that you have become addicted to alcohol. (We’ll provide additional information about the signs of alcoholism in the next section.)

If you experience alcohol shakes when you try to quit drinking, this may signal that you are developing delirium tremens, or the DTs. The DTs are a set of potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms. In addition to severe alcohol shakes, the DTs are also characterized by:

  • Hallucinations
  • Paranoia
  • Racing heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Elevated body temperature (hyperthermia)
  • Extreme sweating
  • Confusion and disorientation
  • Seizure

Only about 3%-5% of people who become addicted to alcohol experience the DTs during withdrawal. However, if these individuals don’t receive proper medical attention, experts estimate that the fatality rate would be about 37%. The risk of death is much lower among those who get proper care, but fatalities can and do still occur as a result of the DTs.

Am I An Alcoholic?

People who have alcohol use disorder (alcoholism) often experience alcohol shakes – but this effect is not one of the diagnostic criteria for this disorder. In other words, alcohol shakes alone aren’t proof that you are addicted to alcohol. 

If you suspect that you might be an alcoholic, ask yourself the following quiz questions:

  1. Do you feel compelled to drink every day or just about every day?
  2. Do you find it difficult or impossible to feel joy or cope with sadness without using alcohol?
  3. When you can’t acquire and use alcohol, do you become agitated or irritated?
  4. Do you find that you need to drink more alcohol than you used to in order to achieve the effects you’re seeking?
  5. Has your alcohol use caused problems in school, at work, or in the context of your relationships?
  6. Have you continued to drink even after experiencing these alcohol-related problems?
  7. Do you spend a considerable amount of time thinking about, using, and recovering from the effects of alcohol?
  8. Do you drink alone or in secrecy? This can include “pregaming” before attending an event as a means of hiding how much you’ve actually been drinking.
  9. When you try to stop drinking, do you develop distressing physical and psychological symptoms?
  10. Have any of your friends or family members ever suggested that you might have a drinking problem?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you should schedule an appointment for an alcoholism assessment. The doctor or other expert who conducts your assessment can provide you with an accurate diagnosis and, if necessary, recommend appropriate treatment options.

How to Safely Recover from Alcohol Shakes

If you develop alcohol shakes after a night of heavy drinking, you can begin to minimize their intensity by drinking water and eating nutritious food. 

But it’s important to remember that alcohol shakes are a symptom, not a disorder. Taking temporary steps to alleviate post-drinking shakiness isn’t enough to address the underlying cause, which may be that you have become addicted to alcohol. To address that problem, you may need professional help.

The need for professional care is magnified in cases where alcohol shakes indicate the onset of the DTs. Don’t ignore the very real danger posed by this set of symptoms. Though most people who try to quit drinking won’t develop the DTs, those who do may be a risk for serious harm or even death. 

Treatment Options for Alcoholism

If you have begun to think about getting professional help for alcoholism, it’s important to understand the many options that are available to you. For example, depending on the nature and severity of your struggles with alcohol, you may benefit from spending time in one or several of the following programs:

Some patients begin with detox, then transfer to residential rehab, followed by time in outpatient care for additional support. Others enter and exit treatment at one level (either residential or one of the outpatient options). 

There is no single right way to recover from alcoholism. This is why you should focus your attention on finding the rehab center that will assess the full scope of your needs, then develop a customized plan just for you.

Contact Our Rehab Center in Palm Springs, CA

If you have become trapped by the compulsive abuse of alcohol or any other addictive substances, Phoenix Rising Recovery is here to help. Our rehab center in Palm Springs, California, offers a full continuum of care, including detox, residential programming, and several outpatient options.

In every program, our patients work in collaboration with a team of highly skilled professionals. We encourage our patients to play active roles in all aspects of their care, so that they can take ownership of their recovery. We know that a person’s time with us will be just one small part of their recovery journey, so we work diligently to help them develop the skills and strategies that will serve them well for years to come. 

To learn more about how Phoenix Rising Recovery can help you or a loved one, or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact page or call us today.