Alcohol is generally ignored when people talk about the dangers of substance abuse and addiction, but make no mistake, alcohol is one of the most widely abused substances worldwide, and the US is no exception. Not only is alcohol abuse and dependence often overlooked, but the American culture is heavily involved in promoting that abuse and dependence by making alcohol integral to many functions, national holidays, and even major sporting events.

When someone turns 21, it is often considered a rite of passage for that individual to have their friends take them out for a night on the town or bar hopping in celebration of their first day being able to drink legally. Unfortunately, this not only sets a “goal” for finally being able to abuse alcohol legally, but it reinforces to our young people that it’s alright to drink heavily, binge drink, or drink constantly.

The result of this is an incredibly unhealthy relationship with alcohol and the solid groundwork for future abuse and addiction. In extreme cases, this can lead to conditions like “wet brain” and even brain damage and memory loss. However, for those who haven’t yet progressed quite that far, it can mean getting “the shakes” after a long drinking period. This can also be one of the strongest signs that alcohol addiction has begun to grow.

Why Am I Shaking After Drinking?

If you wake up and notice that you are shaking, the most likely cause is your dependency on alcohol resulting from long-term alcohol abuse. These are known as alcoholism shakes and develop due to sustained, heavy alcohol consumption for long periods. This can be from frequent binge drinking, consistent heavy consumption, or simply struggling with long-term or chronic alcohol abuse.

When the body and central nervous system are subjected to heavy amounts of alcohol use, the consistent depressive effects of the alcohol itself become needed for relatively normal bodily functions. It follows that when the alcohol is no longer provided to the systems of the body, the user’s body then struggles to cope with the sudden overactivity of the central nervous system, and one of the results of that often includes tremors throughout much of the body, including the hands, legs, and even neck & head.

Shaking after drinking is the natural result of an increase in involuntary muscle spasms or other movements that cause the person abusing alcohol to shake, jitter, or otherwise move uncontrollably. This shaking can be limited to one area of the body, the most common being the hands and arms, or it can be a body-wide phenomenon that hits different areas of the body at different times. In addition, due to the nature of neurotransmitter production in the brain, the movements may be sustained or intermittent and unpredictable.

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When it comes down to root cause investigation, shaking after drinking results from short-term brain damage that occurs during the abuse of alcohol. This damage is often located in the motor centers of the brain, which help to trigger and control movement in the body and coordination. While shaking can be very frightening for those caught off guard, the shaking itself is not fatal and can be reversed if given appropriate attention and medical treatment.

On the other hand, if the shakes are ignored and the situation worsens, it is a sure sign that the alcohol abuse has not abated and that the damage to the movement areas of the brain is becoming more severe. In most situations, shaking after drinking is merely an embarrassment. Still, it can eventually become serious enough that it can be disabling by preventing the user from accomplishing the tasks of daily life. This is why someone with alcohol abuse must be given the help they need to complete a treatment program and the subsequent detox and withdrawal stages.

Shaking After Drinking Side Effects: Short and Long Term Abuse/Addiction Side Effects

Since alcohol is such a potent central nervous system depressant, meaning it depresses or slows the communication between the brain and the rest of the body, it has an incredibly powerful mechanism of control over the user. The alcohol-related nervous system depression also is the cause of a measurably large drop in both brain activity and baseline energy levels.

The risks and side effects of this can generally be mitigated by consuming alcohol infrequently and in small amounts. However, even moderate amounts of alcohol or more frequent consumption of any quantities can begin the process of establishing a chemical and subsequently a psychological dependence. This will force the brain to operate at a far lower regular capacity, which results in the brain forcing the production and release of neurotransmitters designed to speed up the system and make the user more alert and awake.

This is the beginning of a very significant and obvious change in the user’s brain chemistry, which has a cascading effect on all of their other activities. The changes in the neurotransmitter levels and the resulting brain chemistry are the main reasons that people who have abused alcohol for a long time or have abused alcohol heavily for even a moderate period do not act or appear drunk even when their blood alcohol content is considerable.

Short-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

  • Relaxation
  • Reduced tension
  • Reduction in inhibitions
  • Lower concentration
  • Reduced ability to focus on a task
  • Slow reflexes
  • Slow reaction time
  • Lower coordination
  • Reduced brain activity and cognition
  • Reduced perception and sensation
  • Slurred speech
  • Sleepiness
  • Vision reduction
  • Flushed appearance
  • Reduce body temperature
  • Vomiting
  • Uncontrollable urination & defecation
  • Respiratory depression
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Alcohol poisoning
  • Coma
  • Death

Long-Term Effects of Alcohol Abuse

  • Disruption in brain development in younger users
  • Damage to the liver, including cirrhosis
  • Death of brain cells and lowering of brain mass
  • Ulcers in the stomach and intestines
  • Damage to organs to the point of organ failure
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Increased risk of stroke
  • Increased risk of heart disease or heart attack
  • Reduced sperm production
  • Anemia
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies, as well as malnutrition
  • Fetal alcohol syndrome in the unborn
  • Death
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How Shaking After Drinking Can Be a Sign of an Addiction & What The Withdrawal Symptoms Look Like + Timeline

When an individual experiences shaking after drinking, it can be an incredibly strong sign that they have developed an alcohol addiction and may experience more withdrawal symptoms. If they refrain from drinking, the detox and withdrawal process will continue, which will increase the number and severity of symptoms until the acute stage is over. At this point, the symptoms will begin to subside. The timeline of alcohol withdrawal and the symptoms at each stage are below.

Stage 1

Stage 1 is the first stage of alcohol withdrawal and will generally begin about 8 hours after the last drink and will signal the beginning of the detox process. Common symptoms in this stage include insomnia, anxiety, headache, heartbeat irregularity, stomachaches, GI upset, and shakes. For those with only a mild abuse record, this stage may be the entirety of their withdrawal process.

Stage 2

Stage 2 is the next and will last several days following the first stage. The average is about 3 days; during this time, additional symptoms will emerge, and the severity of all symptoms will peak. Symptoms seen at this stage will usually include all symptoms in stage 1, such as elevated blood pressure, elevated heart rate, confusion, hyperthermia, and irregular & rapid breathing. Those with a moderate addiction will usually find this the most difficult stage.

Stage 3

Stage 3 will start about 4-5 days in and come with some additional symptoms, though overall, all symptoms should begin to subside unless the individual was living with a severe abuse problem. In this stage, the user can expect to experience symptoms from previous stages, combined with hallucinations, high fever, and seizures. Only the heaviest drinkers will experience stage 3 symptoms, while others will simply see their symptoms start to fade.

What to Do if You Start Shaking After Drinking

Shaking after drinking can be scary, but it also means that there is still time to get help before the damage becomes irreversible. If you or someone you know has started to get the shakes after drinking, the most effective first step is to reach out confidentially to a local addiction professional to talk about a treatment program. While in some cases, the individual may be able to complete the detox and withdrawal by themselves, it can be incredibly challenging, uncomfortable, and even painful at times.

Working with a professional addiction expert can help detox in a clean and medically supervised environment. This improves the chances of a successful recovery and ensures that medical care is as close as possible in the event of a medical complication. Getting help today can be a solid foundation for future recovery.

Sources:

Infinite Recovery has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations for our references. We avoid using tertiary references as our sources. You can learn more about how we source our references by reading our editorial guidelines and medical review policy.

  1. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Policy | National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Accessed July 1, 2022. https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohols-effects-health/alcohol-policy#:~:text=Even%20with%20this%20flexibility%20for,State%20abides%20by%20that%20standard.
Amanda Stevens, BS

Medical Content Writer

Amanda Stevens, BS

Amanda is a prolific medical content writer specializing in eating disorders and addiction treatment. She graduated Magnum Cum Laude from Purdue University with a B.S. in Social Work. As a person in recovery from disordered eating, she is passionate about seeing people heal and transform. She writes for popular treatment centers such as Ocean Recovery, Ascendant NY, The Heights Treatment, Epiphany Wellness, New Waters Recovery and adolescent mental health treatment center BasePoint Academy. In her spare time she loves learning about health, nutrition, meditation, spiritual practices, and enjoys being the a mother of a beautiful daughter.

Last medically reviewed June 30, 2022

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