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We all have a different relationship with alcohol. For some, it’s a means of loosening up after a hard week’s work or celebrating big life events. For others, alcohol can become something much more destructive.
Some people are more susceptible to becoming substance dependent than others and people can build a dependency on alcohol for different reasons. One sign that you or someone you know has built an alcohol dependence is experiencing alcohol tremors, often referred to as “the shakes”.
Alcohol shakes refers to the involuntary shaking in the body due to a dependency on alcohol to function. Alcohol shakes can occur intermittently, or be constant and are caused by an issue in the parts of the brain that controls the body’s muscles.
Alcohol tremors represent one of the more visible signs of alcoholism. Tremors are often seen in the hands but can affect the whole body and some researchers believe they’re caused by the absence of alcohol that has had a sedative effect on the body.
Over time, the central nervous system expects alcohol, so when it doesn’t get what it needs, the messaging between the brain and the central nervous system is disrupted causing involuntary tremors.
Once the brain chemistry has been altered due to excess drinking, it leads to chemical dependency. Meaning any attempt to quit drinking, or even just cutting back on how much you consume may cause withdrawal symptoms.
What do alcohol shakes mean?
Alcohol shakes are often a sign of alcohol withdrawal as a result of a growing dependency. But while the shakes themselves aren’t life-threatening, what they represent, an addiction to alcohol, can be.
People who suffer from alcohol shakes are already showing signs of dependency, which is closely followed by addiction. If not dealt with properly – the excessive consumption of alcohol as a result of alcohol addiction can cause irreversible long-term damage to your health.
To understand whether shakes are a definite sign of alcoholism or not, it’s important to get clear on what the different stages of alcoholism are:
When alcohol use becomes regular outside of social events, this is what we call ‘early stage alcoholism’. A person might use alcohol to self-medicate a mental health disorder such as depression or anxiety, or maybe to help them fall asleep. It might not be obvious to others yet, but they’ve built a tolerance and need higher volumes to get the same effects. Over time, this leads to dependency.
At this stage, it becomes clear to others that there is a drinking problem. The individual may have blackouts after excessive drinking frequently, experience mood swings, become irritable, and have a distressed stomach. Bloating and weight gain (or loss) are also signs of middle stage alcoholism. Alcohol cravings become more intense, and the person becomes obsessed about when they can drink again. At this stage, relationship and financial problems may appear. When not consuming alcohol, someone at the middle stage of alcoholism may begin to experience alcohol shakes.
At the final stage of alcoholism, the person has no control over their drinking at all. They wake up sick and have to begin drinking first thing in the morning before withdrawal kicks in. To fend off withdrawal symptoms, they need to consistently consume alcohol throughout the day. At this stage, a person is at serious risk of things like cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, hepatitis, or heart disease, to name a few. End stage alcoholics are also more prone to falls and accidents as cognitive issues start to arise. This could include signs of dementia, paranoia or frequent thoughts of suicide.
If someone has a clear dependency on alcohol and is experiencing shakes, chances are these are directly related to the frequent drinking. But although alcohol shakes can be a sign of alcoholism, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are.
Hand and body tremors can also be signs of other health issues like Parkinsons, for example. So it’s not easy to tell whether shakes are related to alcoholism or not.
On the other hand, people who have been clinically diagnosed with alcohol use disorder don’t necessarily experience alcohol shakes. A 2018 study in the professional journal – Alcoholism – found that among people experiencing alcohol withdrawal, just 21.5 percent experienced tremors. So just because someone doesn’t have the shakes, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not alcohol dependent.
Other symptoms of alcohol withdrawal include sweating, anxiety and struggling to sleep. With some of the more severe symptoms being hallucinations, delirium tremens and alcoholic seizures. In some more serious cases, alcohol withdrawal can even lead to death.
In England alone, there are an estimated 602,391 dependent drinkers, with just 18% receiving proper treatment.
Alcoholism – like any other drug or substance addiction – requires a clinical detox before any other steps are made. Only then can you begint to clearly reflect and address the actions, behaviours and underlying problems that led to your addiction in the first place.
The most effective way to treat alcohol addiction is through a residential recovery programme. 28-day to 90-day residential programmes provide the time, space and support needed to heal and learn the tools that will help you live a life free from addiction.
Our purpose-built facility set in the heart of Cheshire facilitates the whole recovery journey. From the initial detox supervised by our nurses and care team, right through to one-to-one and group therapy to get below the surface and create a real, lasting change in your life.
As a residential clinic, we offer programmes aimed at helping guests overcome both the physical and psychological aspects of alcohol withdrawal and addiction. Everything we do here is focused on achieving positive outcomes and ensuring that guests are able to not only overcome their addiction, but grow beyond it.
Over the years we’ve worked with many guests struggling with their relationship with alcohol. Our admissions team are well versed in evaluating your unique situation and building a programme personalised to your specific needs. From first steps through to post-treatment aftercare.
The Delamere experience is deliberately immersive to help you reinvent yourself and set yourself up for success in your recovery.
With an experienced team, five-star facility and a holistic approach to treatment – Delamere is the perfect place to grow beyond your alcohol addiction.
If you or someone you know is showing signs of alcoholism, you can learn more about our approach, and our residential rehab programmes or call the team on 0330 111 2015 and see how we can help you break free from addiction today.
Alex is the Admissions Manager at Delamere. Alex has organised more admissions into treatment than most. Find out more about Alex on our team page.
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