Alcoholic shakes or tremors are physical manifestations that are most commonly evident following abrupt withdrawal from long-term or excessive drinking. Acute alcoholic shakes indicate an individual is very sick. They may co-occur with even more dangerous complications, such as psychotic symptoms and seizures.
Uncontrollable shakiness and trembling of the hands or other body parts are typical among those struggling with alcohol dependence. Much of the time, an individual with a severe drinking problem who shakes shows signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Still, there are other reasons why an alcohol-dependent individual might exhibit these symptoms.
Causes of Alcoholic Shakes and Tremors
Alcohol is a CNS (central nervous system) depressant with a high potential for abuse, dependence, and addiction. Alcohol mitigates brain activity and lowers energy levels, and heavy drinking can induce profound sedative effects. And when a person consumes large amounts of alcohol frequently, their body becomes accustomed to the continued presence of alcohol.
As a result, cessation of alcohol use can prompt the brain to release more excitatory chemicals than usual to compensate for alcohol’s depressant effects. This effect increases nerve activity and keeps the body in a more alert state. These brain chemistry changes are one reason why long-term, excessive drinkers often do not appear as intoxicated as they should be. But when a chronic drinker suddenly stops drinking, the brain continues to function as it did when alcohol was present.
In this overactive condition, an individual will begin to encounter withdrawal symptoms, including tremors, anxiety, hyperactivity, sweating, and elevated heart rate, among others. Shaking and other alcohol withdrawal symptoms can manifest as soon as six hours after the person has had their last drink. This fact is why some of those who are alcohol-dependent wake up shaky and anxious and feel they need a drink to calm their nerves and feel steady.
Some people develop a severe form of alcohol withdrawal known as delirium tremens (DTs) that is hallmarked by severe shaking, shivering, and tremors. Other symptoms of DTs include agitation, hallucinations, high blood pressure, fever, and seizures. Because DTs symptoms are potentially life-threatening, it’s highly recommended that chronic drinkers detox from alcohol in a clinical environment while being supervised by licensed health providers.
Alcohol withdrawal symptoms are usually most severe between 10-30 hours after the last drink and typically subside within 40-50 hours. Nevertheless, some individuals develop a more protracted condition known as post-acute withdrawal syndrome (PAWS), characterized by psycho-emotional symptoms that can last for several months, perhaps up to a year.
Alcohol-Related Brain Damage and Tremors
According to studies, frequent and excessive alcohol use can damage the cerebellum, a brain region that regulates balance, coordination, and fine motor skills.
Damage to the cerebellum induced by alcoholism can produce what is referred to as an intention tremor. An intention tremor is a specific form of trembling that is most pronounced when an individual makes an intentional or goal-oriented movement toward an object. However, the tremor may also manifest when at rest.
Other alcohol-related cerebellar dysfunction symptoms include impaired coordination and balance, clumsiness, an unsteady walk, and nystagmus, or involuntary back-and-forth eye movements. Some people also damage the peripheral nervous system, resulting in muscle weakness, tingling, numbness, and pain in their arms and legs. This disorder is known as peripheral neuropathy, and can contribute to unsteadiness, falls, and injuries.
Alcohol-related damage to the cerebellum usually takes about a decade to develop and can be seen on a brain scan as shrinkage in the cerebellum. It is thought to be the result of alcohol’s toxic effects on the brain in conjunction with nutritional deficiencies (the B vitamin thiamine, for example) commonly found among those with severe alcohol use disorders.
Once symptoms of alcohol-related brain damage onset, they will continue to worsen if drinking continues. The only way to prevent an amplification of symptoms is to stop drinking entirely. However, as noted, this should not be attempted without medical help in severe alcohol dependence cases.
Tremors Caused by Liver Disease
Alcoholism is also closely associated with liver disease, which, in its advanced stages, can cause asterixis, a characteristic flapping or shakiness of the hands. While there may be few or no noticeable symptoms in early liver disease, chronic liver dysfunction can lead to numerous complications, including a potentially lethal brain disorder known as 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 motor control difficulties, including a flapping tremor.
While HE can also lead to coma and death, fortunately, the disorder can usually be resolved with appropriate treatment. Regardless, the development of HE is definitely a foreboding sign.
Treatment for Alcoholism
Shaking that manifests as a result of long-term heavy alcohol use is indicative of a serious problem. Shaking during withdrawals also indicates alcohol abuse, and if it occurs frequently, it should be treated by health providers and addiction specialists.
Just Believe Recovery center offers comprehensive addiction treatment programs that includes clinically-proven services essential for the recovery process, such as psychotherapy, individual and family counseling, group support, art and music therapy, and aftercare planning.