Tremors are one of the most common signs of alcohol withdrawal syndrome.

One of the most common symptoms of AWS is muscle tremors or spasms. If you struggle with alcohol abuse and stop drinking suddenly, you might experience symptoms of alcohol withdrawal syndrome, or AWS. Many different symptoms of AWS exist, all of which can vary in severity.

Article at a Glance:

Important points to remember about alcohol and muscle spasms include:

Muscle tremors, spasms or twitching can result from alcohol withdrawal syndrome (AWS)

Muscle spasms are one of the most common symptoms of AWS, and will usually start within a few hours of your last drink and last up to a few days

Other, more serious complications of AWS that involve muscle tremor include seizure and delirium tremens

Because complications of AWS can be deadly, never try to wait out your tremor from AWS or manage it on your own

Alcohol-related tremors can also develop independently of AWS if chronic heavy drinking has harmed a part of the brain called the cerebellum

Why Does Alcohol Withdrawal Cause Muscle Spasms?

When you drink alcohol, your drinking impacts the chemicals in your brain. Two brain chemicals that drinking affects include gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, and glutamate. These chemicals have opposite effects in the brain. Glutamate tends to excite the brain while GABA tends to calm it down. 

The effect of GABA in the brain is enhanced when you drink alcohol. In turn, your brain becomes very sensitive to glutamate. If you stop drinking suddenly, your brain can become over-excited from getting more glutamate and less GABA than usual. 

The result of these chemical changes in your brain is a host of different symptoms of AWS, including muscle tremors. Muscle tremors in AWS can differ in how severe they are. You may experience:

  • No tremor at all
  • A tremor that other people cannot see, but which you can feel in both hands
  • A tremor that occurs only when you hold your arms up
  • A severe tremor that occurs even when your arms are at rest

You may find that your tremor worsens the longer you are in AWS. Depending on the severity of your tremors and other AWS symptoms, your doctor may treat you with medications to help you through the withdrawal process. Muscle tremors from AWS usually go away on their own within a few days. However, this does not mean that you should wait out your tremor if you think you have AWS. Because AWS can lead to serious health problems, it is important to only go through AWS if you are under medical supervision. 

One of the safest and most effective ways to overcome AWS is with the support of medical professionals at an accredited alcohol rehab center like The Recovery Village. In our medical detox program, you can cleanse your body of alcohol and doctors can manage your withdrawal symptoms in a clinical environment.

Tremors vs. Seizure from Alcohol Withdrawal

It’s imperative to realize that not all muscle spasms are the same in alcohol withdrawal. Some people will have only a mild hand tremor or muscle twitching in alcohol withdrawal. However, other people will have more serious problems, like a full-body seizure. 

Many people experience muscle tremors that begin after about six hours after the last drink. If you are going to have a seizure, it will usually happen within 48 hours.

It is difficult to know how severe your spasms will get, or whether you are at risk for a seizure or a condition called delirium tremens, which is why it’s necessary that you avoid attempting alcohol detox and managing withdrawal without medical help. Even if you only start off having mild twitching after drinking alcohol and entering withdrawal, you may develop worse symptoms. Therefore, withdrawal should be done under a doctor’s care. If not managed correctly, alcohol withdrawal can lead to serious or even deadly complications.

Tremor Due to Brain Damage from Alcohol Use

Some people may have tremors from drinking alcohol even if they are not in AWS. Alcohol use can harm a part of the brain called the cerebellum, which controls your motor activity. Having a healthy cerebellum means that you have good balance and coordination, and can move your muscles with a smooth action. 

When your cerebellum has been harmed by chronic heavy drinking, however, you may notice changes in your muscle movements. In particular, if you reach your hand out, you may notice a tremor. This kind of tremor is not related to AWS but can result from heavy drinking over time harming your brain. Unfortunately, this kind of tremor is not usually reversible.

If you or a loved one are struggling to stop drinking alcohol safely, help is available and your recovery is possible. Our trained and caring professionals at The Recovery Village can guide you each step of the way through your recovery from alcohol use. Contact us today to learn more about how we can help you lead a healthier life without alcohol.

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Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
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Medically Reviewed By – Dr. Jessica Pyhtila, PharmD
Dr. Jessica Pyhtila is a Clinical Pharmacy Specialist based in Baltimore, Maryland with practice sites in inpatient palliative care and outpatient primary care at the Department of Veteran Affairs. Read more

Rahman A, Paul M. “Delirium Tremens“>Delirium Tremens.” StatPearls, updated November 18, 2018. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Department of Veterans Affairs. “VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline for the Management of Substance Use Disorders: Stabilization Pocket Card“>VA/DoD C[…]n Pocket Card.” (n.d). Accessed April 30, 2019.

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Saitz R. “Introduction to Alcohol Withdrawal“>Introduc[…]ol Withdrawal.” Alcohol Health & Research World, published in 1998. Accessed April 30, 2019.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Tremor Fact Sheet.” Published May 2017. Accessed April 30, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.