Alcohol shakes are a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal that may occur when a heavy or long-term drinker stops drinking.

While not everyone who quits drinking experiences alcohol shakes, this is a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Alcohol shakes may be uncontrollable or painful, but this can vary from person to person.

Consuming a large quantity of alcohol causes inflammation of the nervous system. Alcohol shakes occur after the depressant effect of alcohol wears off, and the brain experiences overwhelming activity. This may also occur in people with alcohol use disorder (AUD) during a hangover.

This article will review alcohol shakes, their causes, treatment, the other signs of alcohol withdrawal, and when a person should contact a doctor.

pouring beerShare on Pinterest
Lucy Lambriex/Getty Images

Alcohol shakes, or tremors, are a symptom of alcohol withdrawal that may occur in people when they quit drinking or significantly reduce their alcohol consumption. These tremors typically occur in the hands and fingers.

Alcohol shakes can vary between individuals. In some mild cases, the tremor may be light and hardly noticeable, but in the more severe cases, it may cause pain and other symptoms that can interfere with daily activities.

Learn more about signs of alcohol withdrawal.

Several factors can trigger alcohol tremors. They occur due to alcohol’s effects on the body and how it interacts with the nervous system. The two main causes of alcohol shakes are alcohol withdrawal symptoms and alcohol-related brain damage.

Alcohol withdrawal may cause shakes when the effects of alcohol on the nervous system wear off, and the brain becomes overwhelmed by activity in the nervous system. This may lead to the brain sending incorrect messages to the nerves in the hand, making the hands and fingers shake.

Prolonged alcohol use can also damage the brain and nervous system. This can disrupt the way the brain sends instructions to the muscles and nerves, causing symptoms such as tremors in the fingers or hands.

If a person experiences tremors or has concerns about their drinking habits or health conditions, they may consider contacting a doctor.

Sometimes, the most severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal symptoms can be life threatening. People with a history of AUD who want to quit drinking should contact a specialist who can help them and oversee the gradual withdrawal from alcohol.

Learn more about AUD.

Alcohol is a depressant, which is a substance that reduces activity in the brain and interferes with its communication pathways. Drinking alcoholic beverages slows down brain functions and inhibits certain chemicals that help regulate mood.

Regularly drinking significant quantities of alcohol gets the brain used to a reduced level of stimulation. When the effect of alcohol wears off, the brain finds it difficult to cope with an increase in activity. This makes the nervous system hyperactive, which may result in shakes or tremors.

The signs and symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may include:

Alcohol shakes are a common and mild symptom of alcohol withdrawal. People who experience severe symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may also develop delirium tremens.

Delirium tremens occur in about 2% of people with alcohol dependence. Different from alcohol shakes, this condition may also cause agitation and hallucinations.

While alcohol shakes are not life threatening, delirium tremens may also cause seizures and may lead to death without appropriate treatment.

Learn more about the risks of heavy drinking.

Doctors can recommend several treatment options for treating shakes and AUD. The treatment for AUD typically includes using medications and therapy. The medications doctors typically prescribe to people with drinking problems include:

Additionally, therapy and support groups for people with drinking issues play a key role in treating drinking disorders. Therapy for alcoholism includes:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy
  • behavioral couple therapy that may help repair relationships that AUD may have strained
  • motivation interviews to help understand the reasons why someone drinks and why they want to stop
  • a community reinforcement approach

Engaging in appropriate lifestyle habits can also help improve alcohol shakes. Exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and managing stress with yoga, meditation, or other relaxation techniques can play an important role in reducing tremor frequency. Avoiding caffeine and other stimulants is also important.

However, treatment strategies for shakes and alcoholism may differ for everyone. Doctors can recommend the most appropriate treatment according to the severity of a person’s withdrawal symptoms and general health conditions.

Learn more about medications for AUD.

Several support groups provide help for people with drinking issues. These groups can support individuals during recovery from alcohol abuse.

These groups include those who have had drinking problems in the past and now offer support to people wishing to overcome their drinking habits.

Some well-known nonprofit associations include:

Alcohol shakes, also known as tremors, are a common sign of alcohol withdrawal. They typically occur when someone who regularly drinks significant quantities of alcoholic beverages stops drinking, and the effect of alcohol starts wearing off.

Alcohol shakes generally occur due to alcohol withdrawal or brain damage relating to chronic alcohol consumption. Taking medications and engaging in healthier lifestyle habits can improve tremors.

People who experience tremors and other symptoms of alcoholism should contact a doctor.