Alcohol shakes, also called tremors, often occur when a person who has regularly consumed heavy amounts of alcohol suddenly stops drinking. Tremors are uncontrollable shaking, usually in the hands, and are often a side effect of alcohol withdrawal.
Tremors may begin 5-10 hours after the last drink. That’s why some who regularly drink large amounts of alcohol wake up with the shakes and need a drink to “feel steady.” Tremors typically peak 24 to 78 hours after the last drink, but may last for several weeks or longer.
Side effects from alcohol withdrawal range from mild to severe, and some are life-threatening. Typical withdrawal side effects include sweating, anxiety, insomnia, headache, nausea, vomiting, and tremors. Side effects like hallucinations, seizures, and delirium tremens (DTs) are also possible. Having the alcohol shakes, or tremors, is not the same as the DTs.
DTs are severe, potentially deadly, symptoms that may include a racing heart, profuse sweating, confusion, vivid hallucinations and delusions. It’s estimated that about 4-5 percent of people undergoing alcohol withdrawal experience the DTs. Those who have been heavy drinkers for many years are most at risk.
Any alcohol withdrawal symptom can be serious. Even side effects like vomiting and sweating can contribute to dangerous dehydration, which can be deadly. Because of this, detoxification from alcohol should always be done under medical supervision.
Why do alcohol withdrawal symptoms occur?
Alcohol has a depressant effect on the body, slowing down brain function and energy levels. As the brain adapts to a regular influx of alcohol, it seeks to overcome alcohol’s sedative effect by increasing nerve activity to keep the body in a heightened state of alertness. Even when the intake of alcohol ceases, the brain stays in this state of high alert. Withdrawal symptoms occur as the brain struggles to adapt to the absence of alcohol and return to a state of equilibrium.
The duration and severity of withdrawal symptoms vary depending on how long, how much, and how regularly the person has consumed alcohol, as well as their gender, weight, age, family history of addiction, and whether they use other addictive substances. Withdrawal symptoms may be impacted by co-occurring mental or physical health conditions.
Medical treatment for alcohol shakes
At the very least, withdrawal from alcohol can be uncomfortable. At its worst, it can be deadly. Therefore, detoxification under medical supervision is always the safest option. Medical and addiction treatment professionals can best determine the appropriate detox and follow-up treatment program.
Detoxing means clearing the alcohol from the body and managing withdrawal symptoms. Although alcohol will clear the body within a few days, cravings, shakes, and other withdrawal symptoms may linger longer. Once the body is free of alcohol, an individual can begin addiction treatment.
Treatment may be inpatient or outpatient, and typically includes individual and group therapy, family counseling, alcohol education, 12-step support, and support for physical or psychological needs. Co-occurring disorders are treated at the same time as alcohol recovery treatment.
The best chance for a successful, long-term alcohol recovery means committing to an effective alcohol treatment program. It also means committing to lifestyle changes that will keep you physically and mentally healthy, and alcohol free. There are many ways you can take control of your sobriety and live a better life.
What you can do to stop alcohol shakes and improve your life
1. Drink lots of water and other non-caffeinated beverages
Staying hydrated throughout detox helps flush toxins from your body, which may lessen shakes, as well as relieve other withdrawal symptoms. You can improve your cellular metabolism by adding some drinks with electrolytes to restore the imbalance caused by alcohol. After detox, continue to drink the recommended daily amount of water to energize body, improve kidney function, and improve bowel function.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommend a lifetime daily practice of consuming about 15 cups of fluids for men and about 11 cups of fluids for women. The fluids can come from water, other drinks, and food, but approximately 80 percent should be from water and non-caffeinated drinks.
2. Adopt a nutritious diet
Sugary sweets make alcohol shakes worse. Focus on a diet full of lean proteins like fish, chicken, lean meats, beans, lentils, nuts and nut butters, and nonfat dairy products. Eat a diet rich in whole grains, vegetables, and fruits (be sparing with fruit as it’s high in sugar).
Eat several small meals a day to maintain a healthy metabolism and to reduce the likelihood of cravings caused by hunger.
Check with your doctor for recommendations regarding vitamin and mineral supplements. Deficiencies in B-complex, C, calcium, potassium, magnesium and other nutrients are common with alcohol use disorder.
3. Practice stress management techniques
Practices like yoga, meditation, mindfulness, acupuncture, and visualization not only help manage stress, they foster a sense of well-being and positive thinking. They may also relieve chronic pain.
Deep breathing is an essential component to many of these practices and works to trigger the body’s natural relaxation response. Slow, deep breathing improves cardiovascular and respiratory health and lifts the mood.
Addicted individuals often express feelings of anxiety, fear, and stress. These negative emotions can intensify withdrawal symptoms like tremors.
4. Keep busy
Enjoyable activities relieve stress and cravings, which in turn helps to reduce alcohol shakes. Regular exercise, enjoying nature, riding a bike, creating art, enjoying music, keeping a gratitude journal, listening to or reading inspirational talks or stories, resuming a hobby or starting a new one, watching a funny movie, or visiting with friends who support your sobriety are some ways to reduce stress, enjoy life, and stay on track with your recovery.
5. Get enough sleep
Healthy sleep is one key to overcoming addiction. Unfortunately, insomnia is a common problem for those in recovery from excessive alcohol use. Inadequate sleep can make tremors and other withdrawal symptoms worse. Once you stop using alcohol, it may take several months to regain a normal sleep pattern. Meanwhile, practicing the stress management techniques discussed above can be key to more quickly enjoying healthy sleep. A calmer, clearer mind and body leads to better sleep.
6. Foster relations with your personal support network
Family and close friends who understand and support your recovery goals are an invaluable asset to recovery. Many of those recovering from substance use feel alone in their struggle for sobriety. The more people in your personal network that you trust to support your journey, the more likely you are to be successful.
As important as trusted support is during detoxification and your treatment program, it is equally important after treatment. Trusting your support network to maintain a healthy alcohol-free home environment, to participate in family counseling, to attend their own support group meetings or individual therapy sessions, and to openly communicate their belief in your recovery greatly improves your chances of success.
7. Continue to work your recovery program
Each day, take time to revisit your recovery goals and the reasons you decided to stop using alcohol. After discharge from treatment, follow-up aftercare is vital for successful long-term recovery. Continued participation in counseling, relapse prevention education, and 12-step or other support groups further reinforces the skills you need to manage people, places, and situations that have triggered past alcohol use.
Practicing a healthy lifestyle benefits all aspects of your life. The more your physical and mental health improves, the less likely you are to experience tremors or other residual withdrawal symptoms, and the greater quality of life you will enjoy.
Seeking Professional Help
If you or a loved one is struggling with an alcohol or other substance use disorder, we can help. BlueCrest Recovery Center takes a whole-person approach to treatment, considering not only a person’s physical needs but also their emotional, psychological, and spiritual needs.
We remain committed to expert care and evidence-based therapy. Each recovery program incorporates individual, group, and family therapy to ensure that recovery becomes a process built on a caring and supportive community, not isolation or stigma.
Learn more about our approach to treatment, and contact us today for help.
Medically Reviewed By Dr. Thomaso Skorupski, D.O.