Alcohol Detox Shakes & Tremors: How to Stop Them

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Last Updated - 05/15/2024

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Updated 05/15/2024

Key Takeaways

  • Alcohol detox shakes are a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. They typically affect the hands but can extend to other body parts.
  • Withdrawal tremors are part of alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), which can be life-threatening. AWS requires medical attention.
  • The shakes result from the nervous system’s response to the absence of alcohol, with the brain becoming hyperactive.
  • Symptoms accompanying shakes include sweating, anxiety, insomnia, nausea, and in severe cases, hallucinations or seizures.
  • Medical detoxification is crucial for managing withdrawal symptoms and reducing the risk of complications.
  • Treatment for alcohol detox shakes may include medications and supplements like benzodiazepines, beta-blockers, and thiamine.
  • Preventing alcohol detox shakes involves healthy lifestyle choices, moderation or abstinence from alcohol, and seeking medical advice when needed.

What Are Alcohol Shakes?

Alcohol detox shakes, also known as tremors, occur as a symptom of alcohol withdrawal. Withdrawal presents in individuals who have been consuming alcohol excessively and suddenly cease intake. These shakes are a form of involuntary shaking or trembling, typically affecting the hands but can extend to other parts of the body. Withdrawal tremors are part of a wider spectrum of symptoms associated with alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS), which can range from mild to severe. AWS is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires medical attention. Alcohol shakes typically begin 6–8 hours after your last drink and peak between 10–30 hours after you stop drinking.

Alcohol Detox Shakes and Withdrawal Symptoms

Alcohol detox shakes are a significant symptom of alcohol withdrawal, affecting various parts of the body, particularly the hands. These involuntary movements are a physical manifestation of the body’s response to the absence of alcohol after a period of heavy and prolonged consumption. The onset of detox shakes is typically within 6 to 48 hours after the last drink and can signal the presence of a more serious withdrawal complication known as delirium tremens (DTs).

Physical symptoms accompanying alcohol detox shakes may include:

  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shaky voice
  • Problems holding or controlling items
  • Seizures within the first two days after stopping alcohol

Psychological symptoms may also emerge, such as:

  • Intense worry or anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Confusion and irritability
  • Hallucinations, which can occur about 12–24 hours after cessation
  • Loss of appetite due to inflammation in the stomach lining

Severe cases of alcohol withdrawal can result in delirium tremens (DTs), a potentially fatal condition that requires immediate medical attention. Symptoms of DTs include severe confusion, rapid heartbeat, fever, hallucinations, and seizure. Due to the potentially life-threatening nature of severe alcohol withdrawal symptoms, medical assistance should be sought to safely manage the detox process. Recognizing these signs is crucial for timely intervention and treatment.

Causes of Alcohol Detox Shakes

Alcohol detox shakes are primarily caused by the body’s reaction to the absence of alcohol after a period of heavy consumption. The central nervous system, having adapted to the depressant effects of alcohol over time, becomes hyperactive when alcohol is suddenly removed. This hyperactivity manifests as tremors, commonly referred to as detox shakes.

At the neurochemical level, alcohol affects the balance between the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and the main excitatory neurotransmitter, glutamate. When a person consumes alcohol, it alters GABA receptor functioning and glutamate receptor activity, leading to the slowing down of brain function. This results in the decreased anxiety and sedation that drinkers often experience. Upon cessation, the body attempts to compensate for this imbalance, which can cause shakes and other withdrawal symptoms.

Long-term alcohol addiction may also cause brain damage, which can contribute to a noticeable tremor. In severe cases, liver damage from alcohol misuse can lead to a specific type of tremor known as asterixis. It’s important to seek medical attention if experiencing alcohol withdrawal, as symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening, and appropriate treatment is vital for safety and recovery.

Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome and Detox Shakes

Alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS) is a significant factor in the development of detox shakes. AWS occurs when a person who has been drinking heavily for weeks, months, or years stops or dramatically reduces their alcohol consumption. The symptoms of AWS can vary from mild, such as tremors and anxiety, to severe conditions like delirium tremens (DTs).

During prolonged alcohol use, the body compensates for the depressant effects of alcohol by increasing the activity of excitatory neurotransmitters. Once alcohol intake is reduced or stopped, the sudden lack of its inhibitory effect leads to a hyper-excitable state, manifesting as shakes, agitation, and other withdrawal symptoms. Research indicates that the severity of AWS and related shakes is influenced by several factors, including the amount and duration of alcohol intake, previous withdrawal experiences, and individual physiological responses.

Treatment for Alcohol Detox Shakes

Medical detoxification is frequently the initial step to treating alcohol shakes, especially since they can be a sign of Wernicke-Korsakoff Syndrome (WKS). Medical detox offers a supervised and safe environment for individuals to go through the withdrawal process. However, this stage does not tackle the underlying behavioral patterns associated with alcohol use.

Medications play a vital role in the treatment of alcohol detox shakes. Some drugs and supplements that may be used include: 

  • Benzodiazepines: Benzos like Librium and Valium can help with alcohol shakes and other withdrawal symptoms. They also decrease the risk of developing DTs.
  • Beta-blockers: Medications like propranolol and atenolol can be used to reduce tremor in people with AWS.
  • Thiamine: Vitamin B1 (or thiamine) deficiency from AWS can lead to WKS and increase tremors. Thiamine supplementation protects against WKS and helps reduce tremors.

For more severe cases, inpatient residential treatment programs may be necessary. Inpatient rehab provides comprehensive care that includes the expertise of medical professionals and addiction specialists. Behavioral treatments are also integral to the recovery process, employing strategies like cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) to develop skills for reducing drinking, building social support, coping with triggers, and setting achievable goals.

It is critical to tailor treatment for substance use disorder to the individual’s needs, with some options including medication-assisted treatment, where prescriptions are given to support recovery and cope with detox symptoms. The importance of seeking professional help cannot be overstated, as abruptly quitting alcohol can lead to serious complications, including DTs.Mutual-support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous and SMART Recovery can offer ongoing support to maintain long-term sobriety post-detox. These resources provide a valuable community for individuals in recovery, promoting abstinence and healthier lifestyle choices to prevent relapse.

Preventing Alcohol Detox Shakes

Alcohol detox shakes, a common symptom of alcohol withdrawal, can be prevented through several proactive strategies. To mitigate the risk of experiencing these tremors, individuals are encouraged to engage in healthy lifestyle choices and consider the moderation or complete abstinence of alcohol consumption.

  • Consulting with healthcare professionals is crucial for those experiencing withdrawal symptoms or contemplating quitting alcohol. A doctor can offer personalized advice and possibly prescribe medication to manage tremors.
  • Engaging in a balanced diet that includes lean proteins, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can provide the body with essential nutrients and stabilize the CNS.
  • Therapies such as yoga and acupuncturehave been suggested to reduce anxiety and stress, which may be beneficial in lessening the likelihood of detox shakes.
  • Maintaining a regular exercise routine can improve overall health and assist in managing stress levels, potentially reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms.
  • Avoiding binge drinking and alcohol misuse is an effective method to prevent the development of alcohol use disorder (AUD), which is closely associated with alcohol detox shakes.

It is important to note that while these measures can help prevent alcohol detox shakes, individuals with an alcohol dependence should seek professional medical detox services to safely manage withdrawal symptoms and support long-term recovery.

Don’t Go Through Detox Alone — Find Help Today

Getting help for alcoholism at The Recovery Village Columbus can greatly improve the chances of overcoming alcohol addiction. The center’s team of professionals works closely with each patient to create and continuously adjust treatment plans that ensure long-term success.The Recovery Village Columbus offers several treatment options, including medical detox, inpatient rehab, and more to provide you with personalized care at our Joint Commission-accredited facility. Contact a Recovery Advocate today to take the first step toward living an alcohol-free life.


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