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5 minutes

What Are Alcoholic Shakes & How Do They Happen?

Medically Reviewed
Last Medically Reviewed on: June 28, 2022
Alcohol addiction

Updated on

25 Jun, 2022

It’s often overlooked when discussing drug abuse and dependence, but alcohol dependence and alcoholism are among the most commonly cited substance abuse disorders in the US. Unfortunately, this can lead to many negative effects on one’s life, both short and long-term.

In the short term, people can suffer alcohol poisoning, the effects of being arrested for DUI, or becoming domestic abuse statistics. Over a much longer timeline, however, alcoholism can cause more serious health effects that can be severe and even permanent.

Not only can alcoholism cause things like Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome (WKS), various forms of brain damage, and memory loss, but it can also cause alcoholism shakes. Alcohol shakes may not sound too serious, but they can be dangerous, debilitating, and even deadly in some situations.

So, you might be wondering, what are alcoholic shakes? Well, let’s break it down.

What are Alcohol Shakes?

Shaking is a sign of alcoholism and is known as alcohol shakes. They are the result of heavy drinking for extended periods. This can include someone who is a heavy drinker, a binge drinker, or someone else struggling with significant chronic and long-term alcohol abuse.

Alcohol shakes begin when the person tries to stop drinking alcohol to the extent that their body is conditioned, or in some cases, if the level of alcohol is merely reduced. There can be several official reasons why alcoholics shake, but most commonly, these shakes are caused by excessive alcohol use and the symptoms of acute alcohol withdrawal.

Alcohol shakes result from involuntary muscle movements or spasms that cause the alcoholic individual to shake or jitter noticeably. This shaking can be isolated to just a single location in the body, or it can happen in multiple areas simultaneously or at different times. The tremors can happen constantly, or they can be intermittent.

The root cause of alcoholism shakes is the brain damage that excessive alcohol consumption causes to the motor function areas of the brain. These areas are responsible for coordination and muscular movement. In most cases, alcoholism shakes are not life-threatening if given the appropriate reverence and treatment.

If they are left to worsen over time, the brain damage will become more severe, and the alcohol shakes have the potential to become incredibly embarrassing and even possibly disabling.

They can eventually cause the sufferer to become disabled by interfering with their ability to perform the functions of daily life. This is why anyone experiencing shakes from alcohol withdrawal must speak with a doctor or medical professional about potential alcohol detox and treatment.

Side Effects & Dangers of Alcohol Shakes

Alcohol is a powerful central nervous system depressant, slowing down communication between the brain and the rest of the body. Unfortunately, this also causes a significant drop in energy levels and measurable brain activity.

In moderate amounts consumed infrequently, this often has minimal effect on the user. However, those who regularly consume alcohol, even in moderate amounts, can experience the effects of their body building a chemical and psychological dependence on alcohol. This lets the brain operate at a much lower capacity regularly, pushing out more excitatory neurotransmitters than it would otherwise, boosting central nervous system activity, and forcing the body to be more awake and alert.

This produces a very significant change in the individual’s baseline brain chemistry. This change in neurochemistry is a large part of why people who drink a lot or drink frequently do not feel or appear drunk, even though they may be far beyond legal limits.

The side effects of alcohol shakes can depend highly on the individual that experiences them, their medical history, their drinking history, and more.

Common Side Effects of Alcoholic Shakes

  • Tremors
  • Anxiety and nervousness
  • Sweating
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Nausea and vomiting

Shakes from withdrawal symptoms can start as soon as six hours after the last consumed drink or a decrease in drinking. The symptoms that come with the shakes usually peak within the first three days but then drag on for weeks.

The most obvious symptoms are a rhythmic shaking of one or more limbs, frequently the hands or arms. This can lead to difficulty in writing, signing their name, holding utensils to eat, and more.

While shakes are uncomfortable, they’re usually not dangerous. However, they can be a sign of a more serious condition called delirium tremens (DTs), which is rare and only affects 5% of cases at most.

Alcohol shakes are also usually diagnosed based on your medical history, including any potential factors that stem from physical or mental examinations.

In some cases, alcoholic shakes can even affect the eyes, in a condition known as nystagmus. This is where the individual’s eyes “shake” back and forth due to the inability to control the optic muscles sufficiently.

Alcoholic shakes can also lead to secondary injuries from the loss of coordination and balance issues. These injuries can occur due to the individual’s general clumsiness, loss of coordination and balance, unsteady gait, and multiple similar injuries. There may even be a loss of peripheral nervous system functionality, leading to weakness, tingling, and even burning feelings in extremities.

What Helps With Alcohol Shakes?

If you or someone you know may be experiencing alcoholic shakes, ignoring the problem and hoping it will go away can mean much more trouble down the road.

The presence of alcohol shakes already indicates that a very serious dependency has been built by the alcohol abuse, and it will likely require a medically supervised detox.

Not only can working with professionals increase the potential success rate for treatment for alcoholism shakes, but it can give the individual a more effective skill set for maintaining recovery going forward. Additionally, by knowing how to handle potentially triggering situations or events, the chances that they will result in relapse are all but eliminated.

Working with medical professionals can increase the potential success rate for treatment for alcoholic shakes. It can also give the individual a more effective skill set for maintaining recovery going forward. Additionally, by knowing how to handle potentially triggering situations or events, the chances that they will result in relapse are all but eliminated.

Experiencing alcoholic shakes can be challenging, but it’s important to know that you’re not alone. With professional help, you can overcome these symptoms and build a healthier, happier life.

Reach out to us today to learn more about our treatment options. We’re here to support you every step of the way.


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. Alcohol Withdrawal Guide: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options. Published March 14, 2022. Accessed June 28, 2022.

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Michael Dadashi

Medical Content Writer

Family owned and operated since 2014, Infinite Recovery was founded by Michael & Ylianna Dadashi to give those struggling with addiction a second chance and help to rebuild their lives. Clean and sober since 2009, Michael is passionate about helping others discover their authentic self and live a life of true freedom and purpose.

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