You wake up early in the morning with a pounding headache and the sunlight from your bedroom window hurting your eyes. You reach for the glass of water your past self had the foresight to place on your nightstand the night before (after you went out and had more shots than you could count). Your hands shake when you do, and the water splashes out of the glass and onto your sheets as you try to raise it to your lips.
Headaches, light sensitivity, and nausea are the most common symptoms associated with drinking and the hangovers that come after it, but a lesser-known hangover symptom is shaky hands from alcohol. Also known as alcohol shakes, alcohol tremors, or morning shakes, shaky hands from alcohol can happen to anyone after consuming a large amount of alcohol, like the 17% of Texans who reported binge drinking in 2021. Most commonly, however, alcohol shakes are an alcohol withdrawal symptom.
We know how frustrating alcohol shakes can be at San Antonio Recovery Center, and we also know they can be a sign of a more serious condition – alcohol use disorder. That’s why we offer an alcohol detox program and a warm, tight-knit community for those undergoing alcohol withdrawal. We also know it’s a big jump from alcohol shakes to seeking alcohol detox. Let’s back up and cover what shaky hands from alcohol are and what causes them, and then we can talk about what to do about them.
Alcohol is favored by so many due to its effects on the brain’s neurotransmitters. It increases the neurotransmitter GABA, which is a relaxing chemical in the brain. It reduces stress and anxiety, and can promote peaceful sleep. Simultaneously, alcohol lowers the brain’s glutamate levels. Glutamate is an excitatory neurotransmitter, and is important to memory, cognition, and mood regulation. This creates a relaxed state while intoxicated, but the more you drink and the more your body grows used to alcohol’s effects, the less GABA and more glutamate it will make to offset alcohol’s impact. Without alcohol to help produce GABA and lower glutamate, your body still produces less GABA and more glutamate. This means you’ll feel less relaxed, and more excited and anxious.
Your brain, now over-excited due to the lack of alcohol in your system, is the reason for your shaky hands. Your tremors will likely go away with more alcohol, but if you’re in a cycle of alcohol shakes and drinking alcohol to stop them, you may want to consider seeking help for an alcohol use disorder.
There are other reasons you may have shaky hands, though, some related to alcohol, and some not.
There is a lot scientists still don’t know about the brain, including what brain dysfunction causes tremors. There is some evidence that the deterioration of the cerebellum, the part of the brain that helps with movement and coordination, is responsible for shaky hands. Excessive alcohol use can damage the cerebellum as well, which can contribute to alcohol-related tremors.
While tremors, especially in the hands, have been linked to liver disease, scientists aren’t sure exactly what the relationship is here, either. Liver hepatitis and cirrhosis, which can be caused by alcohol use disorder, decrease the body’s ability to process and rid itself of toxins. This could impact parts of the brain responsible for shaky hands, making alcohol a long-term contributor to the condition.
Alcohol shakes are a part of alcohol withdrawal, and exactly how you experience them will depend on your unique circumstances, such as how much alcohol you drank and how long you’ve been drinking large amounts of alcohol. Alcohol shakes can begin as early as five hours after your last drink, and tend to be at their worst 24-72 hours after last consuming alcohol. Without drinking to stop them, they will last until the withdrawal process ends, which is 1-2 weeks on average. This period can be longer than that, though. Alcohol shakes aren’t a guaranteed part of withdrawal, but if you do experience them, chances are you’ll experience other withdrawal symptoms too, such as:
Shaky hands from alcohol are a part of withdrawal, but they aren’t the same as every other withdrawal symptom. They can be an indication of a more serious problem, called Delirium Tremens (DT).
DT starts with shaky hands, insomnia, confusion, and in some cases, seizures. It can progress to include hallucinations, psychosis, fever, and more. DTs are an extreme result of the brain’s unbalanced neurotransmitters during alcohol withdrawal. In some cases, the brain becomes so over-excited that it stops functioning properly altogether. This can interfere with regular body functions, such as breathing, and cardiovascular function, making DTs extremely dangerous. If you experience symptoms of Delirium Tremens, seek medical help immediately.
Considering alcohol shakes are a precursor of DT, it’s important to take them seriously. In many cases, they are a withdrawal symptom that can subside naturally, but assuming alcohol shakes can’t develop into something more serious is a mistake.
The best way to minimize shaking from alcohol is to drink less alcohol, or quit drinking altogether. To do that, however, alcohol shakes will get worse before they get better. Rehydrating, eating a balanced diet, meditation, and vitamins may make alcohol shakes less severe, but they will not get to the root cause of your alcohol shakes or cure them long-term. The best way to minimize shaking from alcohol is to seek professional treatment and undergo an alcohol detox in a safe, supervised environment.
While it’s tempting to try home remedies to cope with alcohol shakes, dealing with them yourself isn’t worth the risk of developing Delirium Tremens, which can be life-threatening. Aside from that, the additional withdrawal symptoms that accompany alcohol shakes are also uncomfortable at best. Dealing with all of them on your own successfully is unrealistic and unsafe.
The additional unfortunate reality is, that without addressing your drinking habits, alcohol shakes will never really go away. You will be stuck in a cycle of drinking, withdrawal, and alcohol shakes. If you experience alcohol shakes, it is a sign that your body is dependent on alcohol.
This isn’t something you should deal with alone. Instead, it is important to seek out an alcohol detox program, where you will be medically monitored and assisted through the withdrawal process. After your body successfully detoxes, you’ll be able to transition to a different area of treatment and work toward recovery from your alcohol use disorder. That is the true way to get rid of shaking from alcohol.
It may come as a surprise that shaky hands from alcohol are a sign of an alcohol use disorder, and not just a regular hangover symptom. If you experience alcohol shakes, like the person at the beginning of this blog, it’s time to confront the reality that your drinking is hurting your health. This can be a lot to process, but know that treatment is available. Alcoholism rehab won’t just manage your alcohol shakes. It will help you overcome your alcohol use disorder so you can always wake up and drink water with a steady hand, and more importantly, you can live a happy and healthy life in recovery.
At San Antonio Recovery Center, we pride ourselves on fostering a warm and welcoming community dedicated to recovery from substance use disorders. Our low therapist-to-patient ratio ensures everyone receives the personalized care they need and feels valued as an individual. For more information, call us at 866-957-7885. We’d love to meet you.
Is it normal to have shaky hands after drinking?
While shaky hands after drinking aren’t uncommon, that doesn’t mean they’re normal. They’re a symptom of alcohol withdrawal, indicating a potential substance use disorder. They can also be a precursor to more serious withdrawal symptoms.
How do you get rid of shaky hands from a hangover?
The most effective way to get rid of shaky hands from alcohol is to address your drinking habits and seek treatment. An alcohol detox program will ensure you experience withdrawal safely and as painlessly as possible, and treatment for alcohol use disorder will ensure you don’t experience the withdrawal symptom of shaky hands again.
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