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Is Shaking After Drinking Normal?

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Drinking alcohol can cause a variety of predictable and unexpected effects. Understanding the potential severity of these effects can help you prevent a relatively small problem from becoming a major concern. For example, is shaking after drinking normal, or is it a rare sign that indicates something is seriously wrong?

What Causes Shaking After Drinking?

To fully answer the question, “Is shaking after drinking normal?” let’s begin by reviewing what can cause this reaction to occur in the first place.

Contrary to what the term implies, shaking after drinking doesn’t occur because a person has alcohol in their system. It is actually a sign of withdrawal – which means it is triggered by the absence of alcohol. 

For some people, this reaction (which may also be referred to as alcohol tremor) occurs in the aftermath of a drinking episode. Here’s how that happens:

  • When alcohol enters a person’s body, it stimulates receptors in the central nervous system (CNS) that are associated with a neurotransmitter called gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA).
  • GABA is classified as an inhibitory neurotransmitter. This means that it has a calming effect.
  • The continued presence of alcohol can prompt the body to reduce its production of GABA.
  • When alcohol is metabolized and eliminated from the body, the CNS is left with a deficient supply of GABA but an abundance of glutamate (which has the opposite effect of GABA).
  • This imbalance can cause several effects, including shaking.

A more serious situation involving withdrawal and shaking is called delirium tremens (or the DTs). The DTs are a severe, potentially fatal, set of withdrawal symptoms. They primarily affect people who try to quit drinking after an extended period of heavy alcohol abuse.

  • The DTs have been linked with deficient levels of GABA, glutamate, and another neurotransmitter called n-methyl d-aspartate (NMDA), as well as from impaired functioning of the receptors that interact with these neurotransmitters.
  • In addition to tremors, other effects of the DTs include extreme confusion, agitation, racing heart rate, and elevated blood pressure.
  • Experts estimate that, without proper treatment, the DTs would be fatal in more than three of every 10 cases. With treatment, the fatality rate from the DTs falls to about 5% (or one of every 20 cases).

In both of the scenarios described above (shakiness as part of a hangover or as an effect of delirium tremens), alcohol tremors are clear signs that something is wrong. But how common are they? In other words, is shaking after drinking normal?

Is Shaking After Drinking Normal?

Now that we’ve reviewed a few possible causes for alcohol tremors, let’s address the question that we posed at the top of this page: Is shaking after drinking normal?

Studies suggest that about 5% of people who go through alcohol withdrawal develop the DTs. By definition, this means that delirium tremens are thankfully not a normal part of the withdrawal process.

When shakiness occurs during a hangover, concerns about normality should be focused on how normal this experience is for the person who is going through it. 

For example, if you rarely drink, but you overindulge once and then experience mild shakiness and other unpleasant symptoms the next day, this is probably not a cause for concern. However, if you engage in binge drinking on a regular basis, and you frequently endure severe hangover symptoms that include alcohol tremors, you should probably consult with a treatment professional.

Does Shaking After Drinking Mean I’m Addicted to Alcohol?

After asking, “Is shaking after drinking normal?” an understandable follow-up question would be, “Does shaking after drinking mean I’m addicted to alcohol?”

Alcohol tremors aren’t a required criteria for alcohol use disorder as established in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). But they can definitely be an indicator that you have become dependent on this drug. 

Here are a few common signs and symptoms of alcohol addiction:

  1. You devote a considerable amount of time to drinking alcohol and recovering from its effects.
  2. You have become tolerant to alcohol, which means you have to drink much more than you used to in order to feel buzzed or drunk.
  3. You often use alcohol to calm your nerves, manage your stress levels, and cope with setbacks or frustrations.
  4. You have lied to friends, colleagues, or family members about how much or how often you drink.
  5. You find it difficult to have a good time if you’re not drinking.
  6. When you are in situations where you’re not able to drink, you become agitated or irritated.
  7. You have used alcohol in a way that is clearly dangerous, such as mixing it with other drugs or drinking and driving.
  8. You have failed to meet your responsibilities at home, in school, or at work because you were drunk or hungover.
  9. Someone in your life has suggested that you might have a problem with alcohol.
  10. You’ve tried to cut down on your drinking, or even quit completely, but you always fall back into your old habits.

Do Alcohol Tremors Mean I Have to Quit Drinking?

Alcohol tremors can be a sign that your alcohol use has damaged your body. Continuing to drink is likely to worsen that problem and cause others. Long-term alcohol abuse has been linked with many types of physical harm, including:

  • Malnutrition
  • Impaired coordination
  • Weakening of the heart
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis
  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Injuries due to slips, falls, and other accidents
  • Increased risk for several types of cancer
  • Stroke

Chronic compulsive alcohol abuse can also have a negative effect on a person’s psychological and social well-being. Damage in these areas can include:

  • Developing depression or another co-occurring mental illness
  • Having difficulties learning and remembering
  • Conflicts with friends and family members
  • Being arrested for driving while intoxicated
  • Problems at work, job loss, and long-term unemployment
  • Financial problems
  • Social withdrawal

It’s important to remember that the negative effects of alcohol abuse and addiction don’t follow a predictable pattern. For example, one episode of binge drinking could end in death from either alcohol poisoning, a car crash, or another type of accident. But the longer you struggle with untreated addiction, the greater your risk becomes for serious, potentially irreversible harm.

Get Help for Alcohol Addiction in Atlanta

Addiction to alcohol can have a devastating impact on just about every part of your life. But when you receive the personalized care you need, you can get back on the path toward a healthier and more hopeful future.

Peachtree Recovery Solutions is committed to providing personalized outpatient services in a safe and compassionate manner, with the goal of helping each patient build a foundation for lifelong success. When you are ready to get started, the team in our alcohol rehab in Atlanta is here for you. To learn more or to schedule a free assessment, please visit our Contact Us page or call us today.