Alcohol Shakes and Tremors – Alcoholic shakes, commonly referred to as tremors, are physical manifestations that most commonly become evident following sudden withdrawal from chronic drinking. Acute alcohol shakes indicate a person is very ill. They can be accompanied by even more dangerous complications, such as psychosis and seizures.
Uncontrolled shaking and trembling of the hands or other parts of the body are common among those experiencing alcohol addiction. Much of the time, a person with a drinking problem who shakes is showing signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, but there are other reasons why someone dependent on alcohol might shake.
Causes of Alcohol Shakes and Tremors
Alcohol is a central nervous system (CNS) depressant with a high potential for abuse and addiction. Alcohol reduces brain activity and energy levels, and excessive drinking can cause profound sedative effects. And when someone drinks large amounts of alcohol frequently, their body adapts to the continued presence of alcohol.
In an attempt to compensate for the depressant effects of alcohol, the brain releases more excitatory neurotransmitters than usual, which increases nerve activity and keeps the body in a more alert state. These changes in brain chemistry are one reason why chronic, heavy drinkers often do not appear as intoxicated as they should be. But, when a long-term drinker abruptly quits drinking, the brain continues to function as if alcohol were present.
In this overactive condition, a person will begin to encounter symptoms of withdrawal, such as tremors, anxiety, hyperactivity, sweating, and an elevated heart rate, among other possible effects. Shaking and other signs of alcohol withdrawal can onset as soon as six hours after a person has had their last drink. This fact is why some alcoholics wake up shaky and anxious in the morning and need a drink to calm nerves and feel steady.
Some people develop a very severe form of alcohol withdrawal called delirium tremens (DTs) that can induce severe shaking, shivering and tremors. Other symptoms of DTs include hallucinations, agitation, hypertension, fever, and seizures. Because delirium tremens symptoms can be lethal, it’s recommended that chronic drinkers who are detoxing from alcohol undergo a clinical detox supervised by medical professionals.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually at their most intense between 10-30 hours after the last drink, and they usually recede within 40-50 hours. Nonetheless, some people develop a more protracted condition called post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), which is hallmarked by psychological symptoms that can persist for up to a year.
Alcohol Shakes from Brain Damage
According to research, frequent and excessive alcohol consumption can damage the cerebellum, a region of the brain found near the top of the brain stem that controls balance, coordination, and fine motor movement.
Damage to the cerebellum caused by alcoholism can produce what is known as an intention tremor. An intention tremor is a specific type of trembling that is most pronounced when a person makes a deliberate or goal-oriented movement toward an object, but the tremor may also manifest when at rest.
Other symptoms of alcohol-related cerebellar dysfunction include impaired coordination and balance, clumsiness, an unsteady walk, and involuntary back-and-forth eye movements (nystagmus). Some people also develop damage to the peripheral nervous system, which can result in muscle weakness, numbness, tingling, and pain in their arms and legs. This condition is known as peripheral neuropathy, and it can contribute to falls and injuries.
Damage to the cerebellum from alcohol use usually takes about a decade to occur and can be seen on an MRI as shrinkage in the cerebellum. It is believed to be the result of alcohol’s toxic effects on the brain coupled with nutritional deficiencies (e.g., the B vitamin thiamine) commonly found among alcoholics.
Once symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage manifest, they will continue to get worse if drinking continues. The only way to prevent a worsening of symptoms is to quit drinking entirely. Although, as noted, this should not be attempted without medical help in cases of severe alcohol dependence.
Alcohol Shakes from Liver Disease
Alcoholism can also cause liver disease, which, in its advanced stages, can produce a characteristic flapping or shaking of the hands (asterixis). While there may be few observable symptoms in early liver disease, long-term liver dysfunction can produce a number of complications, including a potentially deadly brain disorder called hepatic encephalopathy (HE).
Hepatic encephalopathy develops when the liver becomes unable to effectively eliminate toxins that can damage brain cells from the blood. As these toxins, including ammonia, manganese and other substances, begin to accumulate in the brain, the individual will start to experience sleep disturbances, mood swings and difficulties with motor control, including a flapping tremor. Some people may develop tremors similar to those witnessed in individuals who have Parkinson’s disease.
While HE can also result in coma and death, fortunately, the condition can usually be resolved with treatment. Regardless, the development of HE is a foreboding sign. According to research, around half of all patients with liver cirrhosis die within one year of their first episode of HE, and 80% die of liver failure within five years.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Shaking that occurs as a result of long-term, excessive alcohol consumption is a surefire indication of a serious problem. Shaking during withdrawals likewise indicates alcohol abuse, and if it occurs frequently, should be treated by addiction specialists.
Harmony Recovery Center offers outpatient detox services as well as comprehensive addiction treatment in partial-hospitalization and outpatient formats. Our services include those clinically-proven to be essential for the recovery process, such as psychotherapy, counseling, and group support.
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, contact us today. Discover how we help people reclaim their lives so they can experience the long-lasting wellness and sobriety they deserve!
Related: Alcohol and Anxiety Disorders