Why Do Alcoholics Shake

Alcoholism is a complex and serious health condition that affects millions of individuals worldwide. One of the notable symptoms experienced by some individuals struggling with alcoholism is shaking or tremors. These involuntary movements can be unsettling and raise questions about why they occur. 


In this blog post, we will explore the reasons behind alcoholics experiencing shakes and tremors, including the role of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, the impact on the central nervous system, and other contributing factors. By understanding the underlying causes, we can gain insights into the condition and the importance of seeking appropriate support and treatment.


Understanding Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome


Alcohol withdrawal syndrome is a set of symptoms that occurs when individuals abruptly stop or significantly reduce their alcohol intake after prolonged and heavy use. It is a physiological response of the body as it adjusts to the absence of alcohol. One of the most common symptoms of alcohol withdrawal is shaking or tremors, also known as alcohol shakes.


The onset of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including shaking, typically occurs within hours to a few days after the last drink. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary depending on the individual’s level of alcohol dependence and overall health. The shakes or tremors usually manifest as involuntary trembling of the hands, but they can also affect other parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, or jaw.


The primary cause of alcohol shakes during withdrawal is the disruption of the central nervous system, which has become accustomed to the depressant effects of alcohol. Alcohol acts as a sedative, slowing down the functioning of the nervous system. When alcohol is abruptly removed, the nervous system becomes hyperactive, resulting in involuntary muscle contractions and tremors.


It is important to note that not all individuals with alcohol use disorder will experience shakes or tremors during withdrawal. The occurrence and intensity of symptoms can vary widely among individuals. Factors such as the duration and severity of alcohol abuse, underlying health conditions, and genetic predisposition can influence the likelihood and severity of alcohol withdrawal symptoms.


If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol shakes or other withdrawal symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention. Alcohol withdrawal can be a serious condition that requires proper monitoring and management to ensure the safety and well-being of the individual. Medical professionals can provide appropriate interventions, such as medications and supportive care, to help ease the symptoms and manage the withdrawal process effectively.


Understanding alcohol withdrawal syndrome and its associated symptoms, including shaking or tremors, can help individuals and their loved ones recognize the importance of seeking professional help and support during this challenging time. By addressing the underlying issues and receiving appropriate treatment, individuals can begin their journey toward recovery and improve their overall well-being.


The Role of Central Nervous System in Alcohol Withdrawal Shakes


During alcohol withdrawal, the central nervous system (CNS) plays a significant role in the occurrence of shakes or tremors. The CNS is responsible for regulating various bodily functions and maintaining balance within the body. When alcohol is regularly consumed in excessive amounts, it affects the functioning of the CNS, leading to changes in neurotransmitter levels and overall brain activity.


Alcohol is a depressant that slows down the activity of the CNS. It enhances the effects of a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), which inhibits neuronal activity and produces a calming effect. Additionally, alcohol suppresses the activity of another neurotransmitter called glutamate, which is responsible for excitatory signals in the brain.


With prolonged and heavy alcohol use, the CNS adapts to the presence of alcohol by adjusting the balance of neurotransmitters. It becomes reliant on alcohol to maintain normal functioning. However, when alcohol is suddenly removed, the CNS undergoes a state of hyperactivity as it tries to readjust to the absence of the depressant effects.


The imbalance in neurotransmitter levels during alcohol withdrawal can lead to overexcitation of the CNS, resulting in symptoms such as shaking or tremors. The exact mechanisms behind alcohol shakes are not fully understood, but it is believed that increased excitatory activity and decreased inhibitory activity contribute to the involuntary muscle contractions.


It is important to note that alcohol withdrawal shakes are not solely caused by CNS activity. Other factors, such as imbalances in electrolytes, hormonal changes, and metabolic abnormalities, may also contribute to the occurrence of shakes during withdrawal. However, the role of the CNS in regulating bodily functions and its response to the absence of alcohol is a significant factor in the manifestation of alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including shakes.


Understanding the involvement of the CNS in alcohol withdrawal shakes highlights the importance of seeking professional help and medical support during the detoxification process. Medical professionals can provide appropriate interventions and medications to help stabilize the CNS, manage withdrawal symptoms, and ensure the safety and well-being of individuals going through alcohol withdrawal.


Hypoglycemia and Alcohol-Induced Tremors


Alcohol-induced tremors, commonly referred to as shakes or tremors, can also be associated with hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by low blood sugar levels. When alcohol is consumed, it affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar levels, leading to a drop in glucose levels. This drop in blood sugar can trigger various symptoms, including tremors.


Alcohol interferes with the normal release of glucose from the liver and impairs the body’s ability to store glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose. Additionally, alcohol can increase insulin production and inhibit the release of glucagon, a hormone that helps raise blood sugar levels. As a result, the body may experience a sudden decrease in blood glucose levels, leading to hypoglycemia.


Hypoglycemia-induced tremors typically occur as a result of the brain’s response to low glucose levels. The brain relies heavily on glucose as its primary energy source. When glucose levels drop, the brain responds by sending signals to the body, triggering various symptoms, including tremors or shaking.


In individuals with alcohol use disorder, the frequent consumption of alcohol can disrupt normal blood sugar regulation mechanisms, leading to recurrent episodes of hypoglycemia. These episodes can be particularly noticeable during periods of alcohol withdrawal when alcohol intake is abruptly stopped. The combination of alcohol withdrawal and hypoglycemia can contribute to more pronounced tremors and shakes.


It is essential for individuals experiencing alcohol-induced tremors to monitor their blood sugar levels and seek medical attention if hypoglycemia is suspected. Treating the underlying hypoglycemia can help alleviate the tremors and other associated symptoms. In some cases, managing blood sugar levels through dietary modifications and lifestyle changes may be sufficient. However, in more severe cases, medical intervention, such as the administration of intravenous glucose, may be necessary.


It is important to address both the alcohol use disorder and any underlying medical conditions, such as hypoglycemia, to effectively manage alcohol-induced tremors. Seeking professional help from healthcare providers experienced in alcohol addiction and related medical issues is crucial in developing a comprehensive treatment plan that addresses the individual’s specific needs.


Delirium Tremens: Severe Alcohol Withdrawal Shakes  


Delirium tremens (DTs) is a severe and potentially life-threatening form of alcohol withdrawal that can cause severe shakes or tremors. It typically occurs in individuals with a history of heavy and prolonged alcohol use who suddenly stop or significantly reduce their alcohol intake. Delirium tremens is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention.


The exact cause of delirium tremens is not fully understood, but it is believed to be related to the profound disruption of the central nervous system (CNS) that occurs during alcohol withdrawal. Prolonged alcohol use affects the balance of various neurotransmitters in the brain, including gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) and glutamate. When alcohol intake is suddenly stopped, the normal functioning of these neurotransmitters is disrupted, leading to a hyperexcitable state in the CNS.


The characteristic shakes or tremors associated with delirium tremens are usually more severe than those experienced in milder forms of alcohol withdrawal. They can be accompanied by other distressing symptoms such as confusion, agitation, hallucinations, rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, fever, and sweating. The tremors are often bilateral and may affect the entire body.


Delirium tremens is a medical emergency due to the potential risks it poses to the individual’s health and safety. Without prompt medical intervention, it can lead to seizures, cardiovascular complications, respiratory distress, and even death. Treatment for delirium tremens typically involves hospitalization and close monitoring of vital signs and symptoms.


During hospitalization, healthcare professionals may administer medications to stabilize the individual’s condition, manage withdrawal symptoms, and prevent complications. Benzodiazepines, such as diazepam or lorazepam, are commonly used to alleviate tremors, reduce anxiety, and prevent seizures. Other supportive measures, such as hydration, nutritional support, and addressing any underlying medical conditions, may also be provided.


It is crucial for individuals experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including shakes or tremors, to seek immediate medical attention. Delirium tremens requires specialized medical care, and early intervention can significantly improve outcomes. If you or someone you know is experiencing severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, contact emergency services or go to the nearest emergency department for evaluation and treatment.


Other Factors Contributing to Alcohol-Related Tremors


Certainly! In addition to the central nervous system effects and the occurrence of delirium tremens, other factors contribute to alcohol-related tremors or shakes. These include dehydration due to the diuretic properties of alcohol, nutritional deficiencies resulting from poor dietary choices, liver dysfunction from prolonged alcohol use, co-occurring anxiety and stress, medication side effects, and withdrawal from other substances. 


It’s important to note that severe or persistent tremors should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. Treatment options, including medical detoxification and supportive care, can effectively manage tremors and other withdrawal symptoms. If you or someone you know is experiencing alcohol-related tremors, seeking professional help is recommended.


Seeking Medical Help for Alcohol Withdrawal Shakes


Seeking medical help for alcohol withdrawal shakes is crucial, especially if they are severe or significantly impacting daily functioning. Medical professionals can assess the severity of the shakes and determine the appropriate course of action. They may recommend medication to manage withdrawal symptoms, such as benzodiazepines or anticonvulsants, to help reduce the intensity of the shakes. In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary, particularly if the shakes are accompanied by other severe withdrawal symptoms or complications. 


Medical supervision ensures safety and provides necessary support during the withdrawal process. Additionally, healthcare providers can address any underlying medical conditions, offer nutritional support, and provide counseling or referral to addiction treatment services. It is important to remember that alcohol withdrawal can be potentially dangerous, and medical assistance should always be sought to ensure a safe and successful recovery journey.


Supporting a Loved One with Alcohol Withdrawal Shakes


Supporting a loved one with alcohol withdrawal shakes requires understanding, patience, and empathy. Here are some ways to provide support:


Educate yourself: Learn about alcohol withdrawal and the specific symptoms, including shakes, to better understand what your loved one is going through.


Encourage medical help: Encourage your loved one to seek medical assistance for their alcohol withdrawal symptoms, including the shakes. Offer to accompany them to appointments and provide emotional support.


Create a calm and safe environment: Help create a calm and supportive environment at home by minimizing triggers, reducing stressors, and providing a comfortable space for rest and relaxation.


Offer emotional support: Be a listening ear and offer emotional support to your loved one. Let them express their feelings and concerns without judgment. Encourage open communication and validate their experiences.


Encourage healthy habits: Encourage your loved one to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, getting regular exercise, and practicing stress-reducing activities like meditation or deep breathing exercises.


Provide distractions: Help your loved one engage in activities that can distract them from the discomfort of withdrawal shakes. This can include watching movies, playing games, or engaging in hobbies they enjoy.


Be patient and understanding: Understand that alcohol withdrawal is a challenging process, and recovery takes time. Be patient with your loved one’s progress and setbacks, and avoid blaming or criticizing them.


Encourage support groups or therapy: Suggest attending support groups or seeking professional therapy to your loved one. These resources can provide additional guidance, coping strategies, and a sense of community during the recovery journey.


Remember, supporting a loved one with alcohol withdrawal shakes requires a holistic approach that addresses their physical, emotional, and psychological needs. Your presence, understanding, and encouragement can make a significant difference in their recovery process.




In conclusion, alcohol withdrawal shakes are a common symptom experienced by individuals going through alcohol withdrawal. They are caused by the disruption of the central nervous system and imbalances in neurotransmitters. While alcohol-related tremors can be distressing, it’s important to understand that they are part of the withdrawal process and typically subside over time.


Seeking medical help is crucial for managing alcohol withdrawal shakes, especially in severe cases such as delirium tremens. Medical professionals can provide appropriate treatment and support to ensure the safety and well-being of individuals experiencing withdrawal symptoms.


Support from loved ones is also essential during this challenging time. Understanding, patience, and empathy go a long way in helping someone cope with alcohol withdrawal shakes. Encouraging them to seek medical assistance, creating a supportive environment, and offering emotional support can make a positive impact on their recovery journey.


It’s important to remember that alcohol withdrawal is a complex process, and professional help should be sought to ensure proper management and care. With the right support, treatment, and time, individuals can overcome alcohol addiction and find a healthier and fulfilling life.

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