Shake it off: Managing alcohol shakes

Alcohol withdrawal tremors typically begin 6 to 8 hours after drinking and peak about 24 to 48 hours later. However, there is a broad spectrum when it comes to shaking after drinking. On one end, there’s the casual drinker who may have indulged a little more than usual on a particular night and wakes up with slight tremors. On the other, there are people who consume alcohol in significant amounts for prolonged periods, and their tremors could indicate a more serious underlying issue.

In this blog, we will explore why people experience shaking after drinking, some practical tips for dealing with tremors and when to seek medical help.

The science behind shaking after drinking

Shaking after drinking is a common experience that can be very distressing. Alcohol has a major impact on the central nervous system (CNS), which plays a vital role in controlling body and mind functions. Alcohol acts as a depressant on the body’s CNS and slows down regular neural activity, which is why it can have a calming and sedative effect.

However, if alcohol is consumed excessively, the body becomes accustomed to this depressed state, relying on alcohol to maintain this balance. When alcohol levels suddenly decrease, the CNS rebounds into a state of hyperactivity. This leads to a myriad of symptoms, one of which is shaking after drinking. This phenomenon is largely linked to alcohol withdrawal and is the body’s way of signalling an imbalance.

Other factors that can contribute to alcohol shakes…

Factor Description
Alcohol Withdrawal As the body becomes accustomed to regular alcohol consumption, suddenly stopping or reducing can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including tremors. The body is responding to the absence of alcohol’s depressant effect on the central nervous system.
Dehydration Alcohol acts as a diuretic, leading to increased urination and dehydration. This can disturb the balance of minerals in the body, affecting muscle and nerve function, leading to tremors.
Low Blood Sugar Alcohol can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels. A significant drop, know as hypoglycaemia, can result in shakiness.
Nutrient Deficiencies Heavy drinking affects the absorption of vital nutrients, especially B vitamins, magnesium and potassium. Deficiencies in these can contribute to tremors.
Acetaldehyde Build-Up Alcohol is broken down in the liver to produce acetaldehyde, a toxic substance. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to accumulation of this toxin, which can contrute to shakiness, among other symptoms.
Nervous System Rebound Alcohol depresses the central nervous system (CNS). After consumption stops, the CNS can rebound into a hyperactive state, leading to symptoms like tremors.
Anxiety Alcohol can both trigger and exacerbate anxiety. As the effects of alcohol wear off, anxiety levels can rise, which can manifest physically as shakiness.

Practical advice for coping with alcohol tremors

If you are shaking after drinking on a big night out but are not a heavy or regular drinker, there is usually nothing major to worry about. However, these shakes can still be unpleasant, so here are some tips to help you cope and overcome the tremors as quickly and comfortably as possible:

1. Stay hydrated…

Managing alcohol shakes - woman keeping hydrated

Dehydration is more than just thirst. It affects muscle function, brain function and numerous other systems in our body. Given the significant link between alcohol and dehydration, understanding this connection is vital. Alcohol suppresses the production of the antidiuretic hormone, so your kidneys don’t receive the message to reabsorb water. Instead, they flush out more fluids than necessary, leading to increased urination. This rapid loss of fluids can disrupt the balance of minerals in your body crucial for muscle function and other bodily processes.

Here are some of the best ways to rehydrate if you are shaking after drinking:

Drink A LOT of water

Drinking at least eight glasses a day is a general health guideline, but following a night of heavy drinking, you may need more. Pay attention to the colour of your urine: a pale straw indicates good hydration, while a dark yellow signifies that you need to drink more.

Drink electrolyte-rich drinks

These aren’t just for athletes. After excessive drinking, your body doesn’t just need water but also the salts and minerals lost through increased urination. Sports beverages, oral rehydration solutions or even simple homemade solutions with salt and sugar can help.

Avoid caffeine

While a cup of coffee may seem tempting to shake off the grogginess after drinking, caffeine exacerbates dehydration because it is a diuretic like alcohol. If you must have your caffeine fix, make sure you’re increasing your water intake to compensate.

2. Eat properly…

Managing alcohol shakes - healthy range of foods

Everyone knows that the nutrients we consume are pivotal in our body’s ability to function correctly but the link between malnutrition and alcohol is more profound than many realise. If you are shaking after drinking, make sure you are paying attention to these dietary elements:

Vitamins and minerals

Heavy drinking can interfere with the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients, leading to serious deficiencies. B vitamins are crucial for nerve function and energy, with foods like whole grains, eggs and legumes all excellent ways to replenish your levels. Magnesium, which is found in high levels in nuts and spinach, aids muscle and nerve function, while potassium, abundant in bananas and oranges, is essential for heart health and muscle contractions.


Proteins aren’t just for bodybuilders looking to get shredded; they’re the building blocks of our bodies. Chronic alcohol consumption can impede the liver’s protein synthesis, leading to a plethora of problems, from muscle weakness to immune dysfunction. Including lean meats, fish, dairy or plant-based options like tofu and beans can help address this deficiency and help you overcome shaking after drinking.

Blood sugar levels

Alcohol can cause blood sugar to rise and then plummet rapidly. This yo-yo effect on blood sugar levels is a major reason for shaking after drinking. Eating regular meals and snacks, focusing on complex carbohydrates like whole grains and combining them with proteins and healthy fats can help stabilise these fluctuations.

Here is a look at three days of UKAT’s dinner menu which is designed to provide everything needed during detox and rehab. It can give you some great ideas for the right food to eat to manage shaking after drinking:

Managing alcohol shakes - Food menu example

3. Practise relaxation techniques…

Managing alcohol shakes - woman meditating for relaxation

Our body’s response to alcohol isn’t just physical; it’s deeply intertwined with our mental state. The anxiety and stress following heavy drinking can worsen tremors, making relaxation techniques crucial. Some effective techniques include:

Deep breathing exercises

Oxygen is rejuvenating, and when you are feeling distressed because you’re shaking after drinking, your breathing can become shallow and exacerbate the issue. You can increase your oxygen supply and help soothe the nervous system by consciously taking slow, deep breaths. Take a deep breath for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4 and exhale for a count of 4. As the old saying goes: Rinse and repeat.

Meditation and mindfulness

The hyperactivity of the CNS post-alcohol consumption can create a cascade of anxious thoughts. Meditation, especially mindfulness, is about anchoring yourself in the present and accepting it without judgment. Even simple practices, like focusing on your breath or being acutely aware of your surroundings, can create a calming effect, reducing the intensity of shaking after drinking.

The controversial approach: The hair of the dog

The “hair of the dog” is one solution that some people turn to alleviate shaking after drinking or hangovers in general. However, this approach is fraught with complications and potential dangers. Alcohol’s depressant effect on the CNS is the very reason for the tremors during withdrawal, as the body is reacting to the absence of this depressant. By consuming more alcohol, your CNS may momentarily revert to its depressed state, and the tremors could cease or lessen. While this may provide temporary relief, it’s akin to pressing a pause button where the underlying issues remain unaddressed.

To find out more about why the “hair of the dog” is never advised, click here.

Knowing when to seek medical attention

Not all tremors are benign; some might indicate a deeper, more severe issue. If you experience high fever, hallucinations, severe confusion, or seizures alongside your tremors, these might be signs of severe alcohol withdrawal or the onset of delirium tremens. In some situations, individuals going through withdrawal may need medications to prevent seizures or treat other complications. If the tremors don’t subside after a few days, or if other severe withdrawal symptoms accompany them, it’s vital to seek immediate medical care.

Final thoughts

Shaking after drinking can be more than just an inconvenience; it is a manifestation of the body’s struggle to rebalance after heavy alcohol consumption. Whether it’s setting personal limits, nurturing your body through hydration and nutrition or seeking professional guidance, managing these tremors effectively requires awareness and proactive efforts. You can avoid any potentially dangerous complications by tuning into your body’s signals and spotting the warning signs of a more serious issue.
If you or a loved one resonate with anything stated within this article or feel as if alcohol is taking over your life, contact our admissions team today to see how Sanctuary Lodge can help you break free from alcohol addiction.

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