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Shaking After Drinking: A Quick Guide to Causes and Solutions

If you’ve ever experienced a night of heavy drinking, chances are you know what it feels like to wake up the next day and feel jittery. Maybe your hands are shaking. You feel a little like you might jump out of your skin. 

It’s concerning. 

But why does it happen?

We’ll explore the reasons behind shaking after drinking, also called hangover shakes, and help you assess when it’s a short-term hangover symptom or a sign of a more significant issue requiring medical attention.

Please remember that the information provided in this article should not replace professional medical advice. If you’re concerned about your shaking after drinking or believe it could be a symptom of a more severe issue, consult a healthcare professional.

Why You Feel Shaky After Drinking

The main reasons why you feel shaky after drinking are that alcohol messes with your brain’s neurotransmitters, dehydrates you, and can lower your blood sugar.

Of course, there are more serious reasons you might feel shaky after drinking, including alcohol withdrawal, and we’ll explore those as well.

But let’s start with the less severe causes.

A woman shaking after drinking and trying to hold a glass of water
shaking after drinking: why it happens

GABA and Glutamate Imbalance

When you drink alcohol, it messes with the balance of certain neurotransmitters in your brain—specifically GABA (Gamma-Aminobutyric Acid) and glutamate. 

These neurotransmitters are like the “yin and yang” of your nervous system. GABA is the chill-out neurotransmitter that calms your brain down, while glutamate is the “let’s get things done” neurotransmitter that excites your neurons.

How Alcohol Works Initially:

  • Boosts GABA: When you first start drinking, alcohol boosts the effects of GABA, making you feel relaxed, less anxious, and maybe a bit sleepy.
  • Inhibits Glutamate: At the same time, alcohol puts the brakes on glutamate, the excitatory neurotransmitter. This adds to the feeling of relaxation and can even impair some brain functions, like judgment and coordination.

The Morning After:

Here’s where the shakes come in. After the alcohol starts to wear off, your brain tries to bounce back to normal, but it overshoots a bit.

  • GABA Drops: Your GABA levels drop, meaning there’s less of that calming effect.
  • Glutamate Rebounds: Your brain also releases more glutamate to catch up for lost time, making your neurons more excitable.

Result: Shakes and Anxiety

This imbalance leads to your nervous system being a bit hyperactive. You might feel jittery, anxious, and yes, you might experience those shakes. Your body is basically trying to readjust, but it’s temporarily out of whack, causing you to feel shaky and uneasy. This is sometimes referred to as hangxiety

So, in a nutshell, alcohol initially makes you feel relaxed by messing with GABA and glutamate, but as it wears off, the imbalance in these neurotransmitters can lead to shakes and other uncomfortable symptoms.

Dehydration

So, you know how you always have to go to the bathroom a lot when you’re drinking? That’s because alcohol is a diuretic, meaning it makes you pee more than usual. While it might seem like a minor inconvenience at the time, this actually sets the stage for dehydration.

When you’re dehydrated, your body doesn’t have enough fluids to carry out its normal functions, including keeping your muscles working smoothly. This lack of fluids can lead to muscle cramps and shakes.

Plus, dehydration can mess with your electrolyte balance—those are the salts and minerals like potassium and sodium that help your muscles contract and relax. When those get out of balance, you might experience shaking as your muscles sort of “misfire.”

Blood Sugar Levels

Alcohol can make your blood sugar drop, sometimes to the point where it’s lower than normal. When your blood sugar gets low, your body goes into a sort of “emergency mode.” 

It releases hormones like adrenaline, which can make you feel shaky, sweaty, and anxious. It’s like your body’s alarm system going off, telling you that you need to eat something to get those sugar levels back up. 

This is why you might find yourself ravenously hungry after a night of drinking. I used to scarf enough nachos after happy hour to feed a small army. This is why. 

Symptoms Associated with Shaking After Drinking

It’s also worth noting the physical and psychological symptoms associated with hangover shakes. These can all be part of the alcohol withdrawal process and should be taken seriously. 

Physical Symptoms

  • Uncontrollable rhythmic shaking or tremors, mainly in the hands and fingers
  • Sweating and headaches
  • Shaking in other areas like the head, arms, eyes, or voice
  • Discomfort or pain related to tremors
  • Difficulty performing simple tasks like holding a glass or tying shoelaces

(Source: Healthline)

Psychological Symptoms:

How Long Do Hangover Shakes Last?

Hangover shakes can last anywhere from a couple of hours to a few days. For people whose bodies struggle to process alcohol, they can even last up to a week

Alcohol Shakes vs Delirium Tremens

Alcohol shakes and delirium tremens (often called DTs) might seem similar because they both involve shaking, but they’re actually worlds apart in terms of severity and risk.

Alcohol Shakes:

These usually kick in the morning after you’ve been drinking and are part of your typical hangover package. They’re uncomfortable, sure, but they usually go away as your body recovers. Think of them as your body’s way of saying, “Hey, let’s not do that again anytime soon.”

Delirium Tremens (DTs):

DTs are a whole different beast and are a sign of severe alcohol withdrawal

We’re talking hallucinations, extreme confusion, and seizures. This is a medical emergency that usually happens if you’ve been a heavy drinker and suddenly stop cold turkey. DTs can kick in anywhere from 48 to 72 hours after your last drink and can be life-threatening if not treated immediately.

In short, alcohol shakes are usually part of a hangover and go away on their own, while DTs are a severe, medical emergency that requires immediate attention.

If you or someone you know is experiencing symptoms of DTs, get to a hospital ASAP. If you aren’t sure which you’re experiencing, always err on the side of caution and get to a doctor right away. 

How To Get Rid Of Shakes After Drinking

If you’re dealing with some post-drinking shakes, there are a few things you can do to manage the symptoms. Are these magic-bullet solutions that bring instant relief? Nope. Those don’t exist.

I’m afraid the only way out is through. But these will help aid the healing process.

A woman leans against the wall, suffering from hangover shakes, hand on her head
hangover shakes

1. Hydrate, Hydrate, Hydrate!

First things first, grab some water or an electrolyte-rich drink like a sports drink or Liquid I.V. This will help tackle the dehydration and get your electrolyte balance back to normal, which can calm those shaky muscles.

2. Eat A Balanced Meal

Remember, low blood sugar could be making you shaky, so eat a balanced meal. Go for something with good carbs, protein, and fats. Think scrambled eggs, whole-grain toast, and maybe some avocado. This will help stabilize your blood sugar. Resist the urge to devour a greasy, carb-loaded plate of “please make me feel better.” 

3. Rest and Relaxation

Give your body the time it needs to recover. Alcohol can disrupt your sleep, so taking a nap or getting a proper night’s rest after drinking can do wonders. You might also try some breathing exercises or meditation to help calm your mind and steady your body.

Do NOT Drink More Alcohol To Fix Your Shakes

The “hair of the dog” method—where you drink more alcohol to ease hangover symptoms—might seem like a quick fix, but it’s really just kicking the can down the road. Here’s why it’s a bad idea:

  • Delayed Recovery: Instead of allowing your body to recover and restore its natural balance of neurotransmitters, hydration, and blood sugar, you’re just adding more fuel to the fire. You’re delaying the inevitable hangover and potentially making it worse.
  • Alcohol Dependence: Regularly using alcohol to “cure” a hangover can lead to a cycle of dependence. Your body might start to rely on that next drink to feel normal, which is a slippery slope toward alcohol abuse or even addiction.
  • Liver Stress: Your liver is already working overtime to process the alcohol you drank. Adding more to the mix puts extra stress on this vital organ, which can lead to long-term damage over time.

So, while it might offer temporary relief, the “hair of the dog” is a risky strategy that can lead to more harm than good. It’s much better to let your body recover naturally.

When to Seek Medical Help

If you’re dealing with shakes after a heavy night of drinking, it’s crucial to know when it’s more than just a bad hangover and time to get to a doctor. So, here’s the lowdown on when you should seriously consider getting medical help:

1. You Experience Severe Symptoms: 

If your shakes come with a side of fever, hallucinations, or even seizures, get to a hospital ASAP. These are red flags for delirium tremens (DTs), and you don’t want to mess around with that.

Seriously.

DTs are life-threatening. Go to the hospital.

2. Your Shakes Don’t Go Away: 

If your shakes aren’t going away or are getting worse, it’s time to call your doctor. This could mean there’s something else going on, not just your body bouncing back from booze.

3. You’re Trying To Quit Drinking Cold Turkey: 

If you’re trying to kick the alcohol habit and struggling with withdrawal symptoms, don’t go it alone. A healthcare provider can help guide you through the process and might even recommend treatments to make things a bit easier on you.

Bottom line: When it comes to your health, it’s always better to play it safe. If you’re on the fence about whether your shakes are a big deal, just go ahead and get some professional advice. Trust me, it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Shaking After Drinking Is Serious

Hangover shakes aren’t just an annoying symptom you can brush off; they’re a wake-up call from your body saying, “We need to talk.” 

If you’re regularly dealing with shakes or other severe hangover symptoms, it might be time to take a step back and reevaluate your relationship with alcohol. 

If you’re curious about where you stand, there’s an alcohol dependence assessment at the end of this article. It’s a good starting point to figure out if your drinking habits are something you should be concerned about

Take it seriously, and don’t hesitate to seek professional help if you need it. I’ll also include additional resources if you’re curious about what it’s like to quit drinking

Feel free to request to join our private Facebook group in case you want to connect with other people who are in a similar boat. 

Take the AUDIT

The following quiz is called the AUDIT, which is short for Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. It’s used by medical professionals to assess your risk for alcohol dependence. Curious about how your drinking habits stack up? Take the assessment.

This is not an official medical diagnosis nor is it medical advice. Rather this is for informational purposes only. If you have any questions or concerns, share your results with your doctor.

Welcome to your Alcohol Use (AUDIT) quiz

1. 
1. How often do you have a drink containing alcohol?

2. 
How many units of alcohol do you drink on a typical day when you are drinking?

A unit of alcohol is one standard drink. Examples of one standard drink include:

  • 12 oz can of beer with about 5% alcohol
  • 5 fl oz of wine (roughly 12% alcohol)
  • 1.5 fl oz shot of spirits like vodka, rum, or whiskey (about 40% alcohol)

3. 
How often have you had 6 or more units if female, or 8 or more if male, on a single occasion in the last year?

4. 
How often during the last year have you found that you were not able to stop drinking once you had started?

5. 
How often during the last year have you failed to do what was normally expected from you because of drinking?

6. 
How often during the last year have you needed an alcoholic drink in the morning to get yourself going after a heavy drinking session?

7. 
How often during the last year have you had a feeling of guilt or remorse after drinking?

8. 
How often during the last year have you been unable to remember what happened the night before because you had been drinking?

9. 
Have you or someone else been injured as a result of your drinking?

10. 
Has a relative or friend or a doctor or another health worker been concerned about your drinking or suggested you cut down?

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