You wake up after a few drinks, feeling a little worse for wear. While that’s par for the course when it comes hangovers, you might not be as familiar with other symptoms.
Take “hangover shakes,” for instance. Yep, that shaky feeling you have after drinking has a name.
Why do hangover shakes happen, and are they a sign of anything serious? Read on to find out and pick up a few tips to help yourself feel better.
Many people experience shakes and tremors when they’re hungover, but they’re unlikely to be the same from one person to the next.
You might notice tremors and shakes mostly in your hands or fingers. Or, maybe you tend to feel them all over your body. Others report experiencing hangover shakes in their arms, eyes, head, and even their voice.
The timeframe can also vary from person to person, depending on how much alcohol is consumed and your body composition. Generally, though, they won’t last longer than a day or two. If you drink frequently, you might experience more frequent shakes afterward.
People often associate tremors or shaking with alcohol withdrawal syndrome. Turns out, hangover shakes may be the result of the same changes in your nervous system that contribute to withdrawal-related tremors, according to some
When you drink alcohol, your body responds by decreasing the number or sensitivity of receptors that bind to the neurotransmitter gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA). It simultaneously increases the number or sensitivity of receptors that bind to glutamate, another neurotransmitter, in a bid to counter the sedative effects of alcohol.
As the alcohol leaves your body, however, your central nervous system, along with part of your sympathetic nervous system, remains unbalanced.
Your sympathetic nervous system deals with responses to stress, which includes things like sweating, increased heart rate, and — you guessed it — shakes or tremors.
Low blood sugar might also play a role, as alcohol can have an impact on your body’s ability to monitor blood sugar levels. When blood sugar gets low, it can result in shaking, along with other hangover-like symptoms, including sweating and headaches.
A hangover usually begins a few hours after you finish drinking, as your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) begins to fall. Generally, symptoms peak when BAC hits zero, but can continue for up to 24 hours afterward.
In the meantime, you can try to find some relief by sticking with the basics of nursing a hangover:
- Stay hydrated. Fluids are key after a night of drinking. Try sipping on a sports drink for some added electrolytes.
- Eat something. Some people swear by eating a big, greasy breakfast after drinking, but that’s not always a wise idea, especially if you’re already feeling a bit queasy. Instead, try eating some bland, easy-on-the-stomach foods like crackers, broth, or toast. This will also help to increase your blood sugar.
- Rest up. All the quick hangover “cures” in the world can’t compare to taking it easy. If you’ve got the hangover shakes, chances are you’ve also got a headache and a few other symptoms. Allow your body to rest as much as you can, whether that means spending the day in bed or catching a ride to work instead of walking.
Wondering how long it will take to ride the whole thing out? We’ve got you covered.
Again, shaking and tremors can also be a symptom of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, which can happen if you’ve been drinking for a while and suddenly stop or sharply reduce your intake.
If you’re concerned that your tremors might be the result of withdrawal, it’s best to reach out to a healthcare professional. While you can usually manage alcohol withdrawal syndrome on your own, it can be quite uncomfortable. Plus, in some cases, it can involve more severe symptoms, like mental confusion, hallucinations, or seizures.
If you aren’t comfortable talking to your usual care team, you can find free, confidential help by calling the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services (SAMHSA) help line at 1-800-662-4357.
A little bit of shaking after drinking can feel unpleasant, but it usually isn’t anything to worry about it. Try to take it easy for the day and make sure to drink plenty of fluids and eat something.
If your shakes last longer than 24 hours, or if you’re concerned that they might be a sign of withdrawal, it’s best to talk with a healthcare professional as soon as possible.
Adam England is a freelance writer and journalist. His work has appeared in publications including The Guardian, Euronews, and VICE UK. He focuses on health, culture, and lifestyle. When he’s not writing, he’s probably listening to music.