Alcohol use may help improve the symptoms of essential tremor (ET), but using alcohol to soothe symptoms of ET is not advisable.
If you drink alcohol and have been diagnosed with essential tremor (ET), which is also called kinetic tremor, you may wonder how alcohol impacts your condition. In addition, if you are taking medications to treat ET, you may be curious if they can be used with alcohol. Many of the drugs used to treat ET can have harmful interactions with alcohol. Although alcohol may cause or worsen several types of tremors, ET is slightly different.
Article at a Glance:
Important points to keep in mind about alcohol and ET include:
- Doctors do not think that alcohol causes ET, however chronic heavy alcohol use may worsen it over time
- Alcohol use in the short-term may improve ET symptoms for up to four hours
- Alcohol is not recommended as a treatment for ET because of risks including alcohol dependence and rebound tremor
- Alcohol may interact with many of the medications used to treat ET and should be avoided if you are taking those drugs
Table of Contents
Alcohol and Tremors
Many different types of tremors exist, with ET being one example. It is important to know what kind of tremor you have because they all have different causes. Alcohol use may cause or worsen some types of tremor, while it may help others.
If you have ET, you likely have been diagnosed with a tremor that has shown up without any known cause. You most likely do not have any brain disorders that can explain your tremor. You also likely have a few different symptoms.
With your ET, drinking alcohol may cause or worsen existing symptoms like:
- Shaking in the hands
- Tremor that occurs mainly with activity, such as writing, shaving or picking up a fork
- No shaking when your hands are at rest or when you are asleep
- Possible balance problems
- Improvement of symptoms after drinking alcohol
Can Alcohol Cause Essential Tremor?
The exact cause of ET is not known, but doctors think it might be caused by a problem in either the cerebellum or the brain stem.
Genes play a role in whether or not you get ET. If you have ET, then your children will have a 50 percent chance of getting the disorder as well. Therefore, medical professionals do not believe that alcohol use impacts whether or not someone gets ET.
Although alcohol use and withdrawal are linked to other types of tremors, ET is not thought to be among them. That said, chronic heavy alcohol use can harm your brain, and it is possible that over time heavy alcohol use might worsen ET.
Why Does Alcohol Help Essential Tremor?
Alcohol is known to improve the symptoms of ET because of its impact on some brain chemicals that doctors have identified as causing tremors.
After drinking, you may see improvement in your tremor within about 15 minutes. For this reason, alcohol can sometimes be used to diagnose ET. The fact that ET often gets better after you drink alcohol can be useful if your doctor is trying to find out what type of tremor you have. If your ET improves after drinking alcohol, the effect may last anywhere from one hour to four hours.
Is Alcohol Used to Treat Essential Tremor?
Even though alcohol can help ET symptoms, alcohol is not usually used as a treatment for ET. Doctors do not recommend treating ET with alcohol, because there are downsides to using alcohol to improve your symptoms.
Possible downsides of using alcohol to treat ET include:
- You are at risk of an even worse rebound tremor as the alcohol wears off
- Your body can become tolerant to the alcohol, meaning that you need more and more alcohol to improve your ET symptoms
- Drinking alcohol regularly to control your ET puts you at risk of alcohol dependence
- Alcohol only works for a short time on your ET before wearing off
Alcohol and Medications for Essential Tremor
If you are taking medications for ET, it is important to be careful about your alcohol use. Some drugs to treat ET have an interaction with alcohol which can be dangerous.
Common ET drugs include:
- Inderal, a brand name for propranolol: Alcohol can have an impact on how much of this drug is in your system. You may have changes in your heart rate or blood pressure if you combine this drug with alcohol.
- Xanax, the brand name for alprazolam: Xanax and some other benzodiazepine drugs can be used for ET. Combining them with alcohol can be deadly because of the danger of central nervous system depression.
- Neurontin, a brand name for gabapentin: Alcohol combined with gabapentin may cause central nervous system depression.
- Mysoline, the brand name for primidone: Using this drug with alcohol may cause dangerous central nervous system depression.
- Topamax, a brand name for topiramate: Alcohol can cause central nervous system depression and mental changes when used with this drug.
If you struggle with alcohol abuse and are looking for a way to quit, help is available. Contact our trained professionals at The Recovery Village to learn how we can help you live a healthier, alcohol-free life.
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International Essential Tremor Foundation. “Essential Tremor Patient Handbook.” (n.d.) Accessed April 24, 2019.
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National Tremor Foundation. “Alcohol and Tremor.” (n.d.) Accessed April 24, 2019.
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