Alcohol Tremors: Knowing the Signs and Symptoms of Withdrawal

When alcohol is metabolized in the body, it produces energy for cells. While this process occurs naturally and without problems at low levels of consumption (i.e., socializing), heavy drinking can lead to symptoms such as alcohol tremors or shakes when your supply has been cut off too quickly from intense binge drinking that lasted several days straight. 

Alcohol tremors are a common sign of alcohol withdrawal but they can also be an indication that something more serious and dangerous to your health is happening. Early treatment for alcohol dependence and abuse may prevent serious withdrawal symptoms.

What Happens After You Stop Drinking?

Numerous measures occur once a person stops drinking. After a long history of heavy alcohol intake, the person’s brain pathways become altered. Once this process has taken place, and drinking is suspended to enter recovery, the body will react to it. 

The withdrawal symptoms begin to appear hours after the termination. As the brain starts to react to the sudden lack of alcohol present in its system, the symptoms become even worse. This is a sure sign that the body is attempting to adjust to the absence of alcohol. Alcohol withdrawal can range from very mild symptoms to severe.

Once an individual begins the detoxification process, they will be under the care of a trained support system. The detox experts will keep a very close eye on the person’s vital signs and observe any symptoms that might emerge. They will provide great support throughout the entire detox process, and also be on the lookout for any complications caused by alcohol withdrawal.  

What Are Alcohol Tremors?

When someone struggles with chronic or long-term alcohol dependence, they may experience tremors. They are also known as “alcohol shakes.” Alcohol tremors can occur intermittently but often become constant due to brain damage from excessive drinking over time which causes shaking in one’s body parts due to the loss of voluntary muscle control. These alcohol tremors or shakes/jitters are a major sign and symptom of withdrawal. 

While alcohol tremors aren’t immediately life-threatening, experiencing them can be embarrassing or inconvenient. Often these shakes make it difficult for individuals to effectively live their lives, including being able to perform everyday tasks and functions.

It’s important to point out, that the withdrawal timeline (how long the alcohol tremors will last) may vary, as everyone will experience unique symptoms at different intensities. If left untreated, alcohol tremors can be life-threatening. 

Delirium Tremens

Delirium tremens (DT) is an extremely serious type of alcohol withdrawal. It’s a complication of going through alcohol detox and can also be an indicator that a person may be experiencing life-threatening complications due to substance abuse.

DTs usually emerge while undergoing detox, but not as instant. These severe withdrawal symptoms such as tremors and shakes are considered to be the most common among individuals who have been heavy drinkers for a long time.

Alcohol tremors or shakes commonly affect areas of the body, including the hands, arms, and legs. It’s important to note, that everyone who goes through withdrawal will experience a variety of symptoms, and at different times. 

These shakes may present themselves 6-8 hours, after a long period of drinking and stopping, 10-30 hours after your last drink, and 2-3 days after binging on and off. An onset of other uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms usually follows. Research states that Delirium tremens occurs in approximately 1 out of 20 people who experience withdrawal symptoms. Tthe survival rate is approximately 15%. 

Delirium tremens might be present around the individual’s third day of the detoxification process. However, in some cases, the detox process might be winding down on the seventh day that the sudden onset of DTs begins. Symptoms of Delirium tremens include:

  • Severe mental confusion
  • Chronic pain
  • Fever
  • Excessive sweating
  • Uncontrollable shaking and tremors
  • Seizures
  • Paranoia 
  • A sense that there are insects crawling on or underneath the skin
  • Delusions or hallucinations
  • High blood pressure
  • Extreme anxiety 
  • Heart complications

As mentioned above, a major decline in mental health is associated with Delirium tremens, along with hallucinations, delusions, and trouble regulating involuntary functions of the body including heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. Alcohol tremors arise about 6-8 hours after drinking.

Treatment for alcohol tremors, specifically Delirium tremens, may include a hospital stay for the patient to be stabilized and the outcome to be improved. Other treatment methods involve IV sedation infusions, along with hydration. Overall, this can provide speedy relief and stabilization until the symptoms subside. 

Why Do I Get Alcohol Tremors After Drinking?

An individual can get shakes after drinking alcohol because of how it affects the brain and body. Alcohol is classified as a depressant that slows down brain activity in the central nervous system (CNS). When someone drinks, the alcohol acts as a sedative, slowing down brain activity, interferes with mood-regulating chemicals, and lessens one’s energy levels. This means that heavy drinking gets a person’s brain used to more of a reduced level of stimulation. 

As alcohol leaves an individual’s body that is a heavy drinker, their brain is flooded with more and more activity. The person’s nervous system starts to become hyperactive, and they might experience alcohol tremors. 

Even if an individual doesn’t consider themselves an alcoholic, they might be misusing alcohol in a variety of different ways. This is even if a person views alcohol as a recreational hobby. The above-mentioned process can also cause a person to experience shakes. 

When an individual drinks a large amount of alcohol in one single session, known as binge drinking, it can result in a term called “hangover shakes,” A person might begin to feel their hands or their entire body shaking, depending on how much alcohol was consumed. 

If a person experiences alcohol shakes along with other withdrawal symptoms, it could be considered a sign that they have a physical dependency on alcohol. As an individual’s body is used to having alcohol in their system, reducing the consumption will result in the common case of shaking after drinking.  

Causes of Alcohol Tremors

The most common cause of alcohol shakes is usually a symptom of a hangover due to dehydration, not always withdrawal. When an individual has a severe alcohol use disorder, AUD, it means that their drinking has caused the central nervous system to slow down as their brain produces more GABA. 

If the person has stopped drinking, their nervous system then becomes destabilized overall. When an individual enters alcohol detox, they are given a medication used to treat anxiety, called benzodiazepines, which reduce the overall chances of alcohol tremors or seizures. 

The particular drugs act to slow down a person’s central nervous system and are extremely helpful during the detoxification process. There are about 10% of individuals present in alcohol detox will experience seizures. Even though seizures are frightening on their own, they can also be considered a warning sign of Delirium tremens (DT).

An individual that experiences a seizure during the detoxification process will most likely be transferred to more of a hospital setting since seizures tend to repeat themselves. It’s important to take precaution measures in case the seizures do progress into DTs.The individual will be able to receive the proper and necessary medical treatment needed. There are various other causes of alcohol tremors, including the following:

Alcohol Withdrawal Symptoms

When alcohol is introduced into the body, it quickly reaches nerve endings in your brain. A large number of excitatory neurotransmitters are released into the areas of the brain than usual to increase nerve activity. 

These chemicals send messages throughout all parts of your system to make sure that everything stays active and functioning normally while preventing any negative side effects from setting in like dizziness or nausea caused by dehydration. Therefore, when people consume large quantities of alcohol, they have built up a high tolerance, and won’t feel the common side effects of being drunk, unless they stop for a period of time and start drinking again.

Drinking alcohol regularly over time, causes people’s brains and bodies to become dependent or get used to it in their system. However, when someone who experiences alcohol dependency suddenly quits drinking alcohol cold turkey, the brain is tricked into thinking that the substance is still in one’s bloodstream. As a result, individuals begin to experience symptoms of withdrawal, as it’s the body’s way of reacting to ridding itself of alcohol.  

Symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include:

  • Body tremors
  • A mental health disorder such as anxiety or depression
  • Sweating
  • Hyperactivity
  • An increased heart rate
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Withdrawal symptoms, especially Delirium tremens can be fatal. Therefore, it is highly recommended that a person should not self-detox as severe complications can arise. Most individuals experiencing these severe symptoms should undergo alcohol detox in a medically monitored facility.

Liver Disease

It has been shown that alcohol use disorder is closely related to liver disease. In its early stages, it can lead to increased risks for developing abnormal ammonia metabolism and asterixis. This is the shaking of hands due in part to permanent muscle damage caused by excessive protein loss through urine production or other organs not working properly while fighting off toxins throughout your body. 

However, prolonged liver disease can result in more severe risks and complications. This includes a potentially fatal brain condition called hepatic encephalopathy. This disease develops when the liver cannot filter toxins from the blood that affect one’s brain cells. These toxins contain substances, including manganese, ammonia, and more.

Alcohol-Induced Brain Damage

The brain’s cerebellum is responsible for maintaining balance and coordination, but it also has an important role in the fine motor movement. People with alcohol addiction may experience damage to this area, which causes them to shake uncontrollably or have alcohol tremors. Symptoms and side effects of alcohol-related brain damage include:

  • Poor coordination and balance
  • Clumsiness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Numbness
  • Tingling and burning sensation in extremities (Neuropathy) 
  • Involuntary back-and-forth eye movements (Nystagmus)

 If you’re experiencing any symptoms like these then please seek medical attention right away.

What Occurs During Alcohol Withdrawal?

Alcohol withdrawal occurs when an individual has been drinking a huge amount of alcohol for many days, and then they begin the process of stopping or cutting back.  When this process occurs, an alcohol seizure can occur. There is an even greater risk in individuals who drink plenty of alcohol every day. 

Seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal can also be caused without withdrawal. They might occur as soon as a few hours after the last drink has been consumed. Or alcohol seizures can occur numerous days later. If you have experienced a seizure from any cause, you’re more at risk for an alcohol abuse seizure. It’s important to understand that seizure medications might not prevent seizures caused by alcohol withdrawal. 

Signs and Symptoms of Alcohol Withdrawal

Alcohol detox proceeds through the following three stages and signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal occur because of it. Below is the alcohol withdrawal timeline and stages: 

Stage One: Symptoms Emerge

The earliest symptoms that emerge during the first 24 hours of detox include:

  • Sweating and irritability 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Nausea or vomiting

Stage Two: Symptoms Peak 

During days 2-4, the symptoms will peak, including:

  • Alcohol withdrawal seizures 
  • Psychosis and hallucinations
  • High blood pressure 
  • Increased nausea 
  • Fuzzy thinking 
  • Restlessness
  • Cold sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Agitation 

This is the phase of withdrawal when delirium tremens or DTs occurs. 

Stage Three: Symptoms Subside

Between days 4-17, the individual’s symptoms will begin to subside. In individuals who have more severe alcohol use disorder, or AUD, there might even be psychological effects that can linger, such as the following:

  • Anxiety or depression 
  • Fatigue and insomnia 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Alcohol Tremors

The decision to stop drinking alcohol can be a daunting one. But with the right support and guidance from your doctor, they can guide you toward the safest, most comfortable, and most effective plan for your sobriety. 

As alcohol abuse affects your physical and mental health,  it’s important to be guided by someone who knows your medical history. Your doctor may personally oversee your alcohol withdrawal, or if need be, they may refer you to an inpatient or outpatient treatment facility. Whatever recovery option you choose, it is important to have medical supervision, rather than self-detox.

Treatment for alcohol tremors includes prescribed medications such as benzodiazepines or baclofen to help ease the severity and duration of withdrawal symptoms. These medications help calm the central nervous system including muscle spasticity. Due to withdrawal symptoms such as alcohol tremors, doctors have seen the success of using benzos to reduce symptoms of alcohol withdrawal, including tremors.

Suffering From Alcohol Tremors and Other Withdrawal Symptoms? We Can Help You Recover Today

If you or someone you know is struggling with mild or severe withdrawal symptoms, including alcohol tremors, we can help you manage your condition. We are geared to inspire, empower, and help you transform your life. Contact us today to get started. 


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