What Causes An Alcoholic To Shake

Post Submitted By: Ben
I have written on here fairly regularly and have a question for you. Today at brunch my wife’s right arm started shaking her hand, arm, the whole thing- and wouldn’t stop. She rushed home from the restaurant while I went to Home Depot (about an hour) and the shaking had stopped. I did notice she had drank a couple beers in that time. She said she took calcium pills and that’s why it stopped-she attributed it to calcium deficiency. Has anyone experienced this? Is it just a case of the shakes? She usually doesn’t have the shakes that early (noon). She usually starts drinking around 3 pm.

JC: Thanks Ben for being a faithful participant on this site. I am not familiar with any reasons for someone with a drinking problem to shake unless they are going through the DTs caused by withdrawal from alcohol. Hopefully a few of our readers can offer a few ideas to help. You may have the answer already for why your wife was shaking, as this article was submitted for publishing a couple of weeks ago.

24 comments to What Causes An Alcoholic To Shake

  • Zita

    My husband is a functioning alcoholic and his hands always shake…they always did but over the years it has gotten quite bad. I’m sure it has everything to do with drinking although I’m not sure what causes it other than needing a drink.

  • Ben

    This was the first time I witnessed this. She drove home and drank two beers over ice (she always chills her beer, never drinks it over ice) and she was fine in 10 minutes. She took calcium pills with the beer, but I doubt calcium pills would work that fast. She’s 42 and is showing signs of cirrhotic bruising, endless bleeding during menstruation, and now the shakes. She’s an RN. I see her health deteriorating in front of me and there isn’t a thing I can do. 🙁

  • Debbi

    I witnessed this every morning to a smaller degree with my exAH. After 8 hours of sleep the alcohol level dropped by morning and he would shake so bad in the AM he could not pour a cup of coffee or add a spoon of sugar to it without spilling all over. Then he would get some alcohol in his system–I believe he would take his coffee out to the garage, add alcohol to it and in a few minutes be fine again. When women drink the effects are more severe and they are in more danger & this has been proven and that’s why the limits for women’s drinking is lower than a man’s. Your wife is definitely doing damage to her body and you need to be prepared for even worse things to come. She might start complaining of tingling in the arms and legs and her legs giving out. You are in for alot of this now, be prepared.

  • Ben

    I guess I was alarmed for a few reasons: 1) i had never seen this before, 2) I am worried her health is starting to fail 3) she is an RN and works days- I’m wondering if this was a weekday instead of a weekend, what happens if she gets the shakes at work? Is she stealing withdrawal meds from patients? Is she drinking at lunch break? How long before she makes a medication error and costs someone their life? Once again, if I sit back and allow that to happen, I am just as guilty as her.

  • Debbi

    To Ben:
    No you are not as guilty as her-No, No No, get that out of your head. As a nurse of all people she sees this and knows she needs medical help. They keep the shakes and symptoms at bay by constantly drinking. When at this point of physical dependence–the lack of alcohol in their system is more dangerous than having it in their system. But you now have your warning. If she loses her job will you be okay with just your income? Get prepared now. My exAH worked in construction and all the guys drink. I finally figured out mine kept his in a bucket in the back of the truck with tools on top to hide it. Yours is finding a way to hide it at work & probably in her car. We, as the closest to them start to see the behavior but at work they cover it very well and not until the person makes a big mistake is it brought to light. If it happens to your wife it might actually be the wakeup call she needs although she will most definitely lose her license. I work where my license is covered under the banking and insurance industry and I have seen many co-workers lose their license for alcohol and addiction. Yesterday, one of my co-workers who is a drug addict had her dealer bring the drugs to her at work–she is getting braver & braver & soon she will get caught. It is sad because that’s when the final descent either happens or they finally agree to help. I do not like this woman at work but I feel bad because she is the sole support of 2 young boys. I see you are staying with your wife–be proud of what you’re doing but also take care of yourself and your finances now & be ready just in case.

  • Ben

    Hi Debbi,

    Yes, that is great advice. I figure she’s around the corner from a major crisis- work, health, something. She was arrested picking our daughter up at daycare in February, I thought that was the wake up call, but she took a couple months off and drank herself stupid instead. That story is posted here on AF.

  • Debbi

    Gosh Ben:
    I forgot your story but I remember now and you called the daycare & the police. I applaud you for taking care of your daughter. I have read 3 books from Doug Thornburn and even had a telephone consultation with him. One book is to protect yourself financially as well. If your wife drinks & drives and you share a house titled in both names–get her and her car on a separate car insurance policy. His books let you see things like this by what others have been through. The heart is the hardest part to let go of the one we love but I keep telling everyone–protect your income, your children. When you stay or if staying until ready to leave get prepared. Even if you don’t leave, having a plan in place just makes good sense. Try his books they will enlighten you and prepare you. I chose not to stay but my decision was forced because of infidelity & I wasn’t financially quite ready yet but good thing I was working on it before he bolted! Just be prepared.

  • Ben

    You read that? Wow! This site truly is powerful! Yeah, some good came out of that- at least she quit breast feeding our 31/2 year old. Olivia is now doing much better and learning and growing in leaps and bounds. My A refuses to go near the daycare because she says “they lack integrity”, so I take livi and pick her up every day. However, this may work in my favor if we ever go to court. Honestly, I think she’s playing that card because she knows she’s always drunk after 2:00, and knows they’re on to her and that she will get arrested again.

  • Debbi

    Good Job Ben:
    Just keep documenting everything so as the saying goes. . .be prepared for the worse but hope for the best. A 3-1/2 I’ll bet she keeps you busy. Enjoy her & when things get to you–go spend time with her–children have a wonderful way of taking our minds off our problems. And I’ll bet your wife is embarrassed to show up at daycare now. Image & fear of arrest is everything to them. They even rotate stores where they buy their alcohol from so the clerk won’t see how often they come in so I’m sure it will be a long time before your wife picks up or drops off at the daycare.

  • Karen2

    Ben, Not having witnessed your wife’s shaking firsthand, of course, I’ll try and speak of what I would do if I saw my AH shake as you described. First, since it was the first time you had seen it, I would take mental notes of any other unusual physical problems that may occur. I’m speaking of perhaps headaches, slurred speech, blurred vision, etc.. If anything further unusual is noted, I would have her checked out by a neurologist; I would request at least an EEG and perhaps, a MRI of her brain; blood work. Meanwhile, since you say she is a RN, I would drug test her, if possible. She has access to medications? Once a recovering alcoholic said to me, ” I was an alcoholic before I ever took my first drink.” Stuck with me. Many of these folks are self-medicating with booze and often, other things. If she refuses to be drug tested, I would be suspicious. Dr. Phil says people that have nothing to hide, hide nothing. I like it.

  • Ben

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for your post. Very helpful!! You sound like you have a medical background. Yes, she had LASIK a couple years ago. She’s been complaining of blurry vision. She recently went to the eye doctor and her vision is better than perfect- 20/15 and 20/20. Yet, she’s still complaining of blurry vision. She is starting to bruise and I thought its because she’s an RN and always on the move, but I now realize the bruises are always in the same places. She has curled finger nails, clubbed fingers (which she says have been that way since she was a baby- her mom told me that is NOT true), she has crooked fingers at the joints, veins showing on her hands that make her hands look 90 years old, etc. I’m really worried for her health. She eats 20,000 calories a day and loads up on vitamins and minerals (immense amounts) yet only weighs 120 pounds. She also has a hard time controlling her bladder. She has very high HDL cholesterol, the highest her doctor has ever seen in her career. That is a dead give away of
    Alcoholism for doctors. It seems you have knowledge of the medical side of alcoholism. She is 42 and beauitiful, yet under the makeup and after a closer look, it seems to me she is dying. I really feel, especially after the shakes, that there is a medical catastrophe around the corner.

  • C


    I love the name of your little girl. I can tell you care deeply for your wife and family. From experience, I understand what it is like to live with someone who drinks every single day. Mine would drink a beer at any hour of the morning when he got up, had alcohol in his coffee and then went on to a glass of wine. He is retired and will be 6 ft., under if he doesn’t wake up.

    The next time you go to your dr., ask him about alcohol and its effects on women. Am so glad you are documenting each day – you will have a reference in case she becomes very ill, falls or decides to become sober.

    Keep on posting so we know you are doing okay.

  • Karen2

    Yes, Ben, when you’ve been a nurse for 34 years it kinda shows. Most of my career has been in management, now an owner. Needless to say, when you posted that you worry for your wife’s patients, I felt an ouchy.
    Anyway, the symptoms you describe are a bit unusual for one particular thing (except for the crooked finger joints), but does sound like a general lack of health. In my AH’s case, he is 59 and his work up is still coming out normal for his age. Amazing.
    Would be good if you could coax your wife into getting a full smattering of tests, including those for autoimmune disorders.
    I would still get a drug test, though. Call me cynical.
    Did you really mean to write that she eats 20000 calories a day?

  • ben

    Hi Karen,

    Thanks for the reply- I just saw it. I had been anxiously waiting for you! 🙂
    Well, I’m not convinced her workups are normal, as I had an “off the record” talk with her MD (HIPAA)and she stated “Mr. Ayvaz, if you assume I told her that is the highest HDL I’ve ever seen in my career as if it’s a good thing, you are mistaken” and “if you assume I missed all of those other warning signs, you are mistaken” and “If you were waiting on her to hear from her doctor that she needs to quit drinking or she’ll die, I would assume that talk has already happened and it was equally as inneffective as hearing it from family members and friends”. She said the next step for me is to talk to an interventionist, an attorney, or both. 🙁

    Yes, she really does eat 20,000 calories a day. Although she’s been on a health kick the last couple of weeks because she had ICU training and saw a lot of heart disease.

    Her workups used to be great, but now she just tells me they are great and I don’t really get to see them. The point of me talking to her doctor was to “tip her off” and get additional tests ordered, but it seems that the HDL was over 100, and that tipped the doctor off enough. I don’t know what her liver functions were. I just feel like she’s on borrowed time.

    We have a precious four year old and I’m not sure watching mommy drink all day long, slur her words, swear, fight, and eat with her hands is healthy for her. Olivia was breastfed for 31/2 years with all that alcohol. She had to have all her top teeth in front pulled last March because of the alcohol, breastfeeding, and neglect.

    I don’t think I can make her get any tests unless the worst happens and I file for divorce and it’s court ordered. I’ve also thought about contacting her work and the nursing board. She’s missed 14 weeks of work this year so she could sit home and drink. A few years ago she loved working. She doesn’t even take care of our daughter- Olivia is in daycare 12 hours a day while nikki sits home and drinks on her days off.

    Karen2, I know we hit it off kind of bad, but I appreciate you. I wish I was strong enough to “detach with love” and work Al Anon, but I am barely 40 and feel that I didn’t get married to be alone, and I have never been more alone in my life. This is not a marriage to me. Thanks for all your help. Maybe I’m just not strong enough? Ben

  • C


    It was very difficult to read your post concerning your 4 year old child breastfeeding until she was 3 1/2 and then having teeth pulled. I am unable to believe the child’s doctor did not know she was still being breastfed and did not intervene.

    Do what you feel is right for you and your daughter. Your wife could outlive you if the stress becomes unbearable and you have a heart attack. Leaving your daughter in her care would be a disaster.

  • Ben


    It’s interesting you mention this- I have always been healthy, but there is heart disease in my family. Since I married this woman, the stress and depression sent my weight soaring from 180 to 250 pounds. I am at 220 right now. Last night I tried to do some work around the house and I was short of breath walking up and down from the basement. She even got worried last night but attributes it all to diet. She doesn’t even realize how stressful life is with her. The constant arguing, bantering, name calling, put downs, circular arguments, etc. I’ve been having pain in my chest and sleeping a lot lately- I’ve always been a 4 hour a night sleeper. Something is wrong and I’m afraid- not sure what to do.

  • Julie

    Ben: It sounds like you are suffering from the effects of an alcoholic spouse. I had high blood pressure, headaches, stomach and bowel problems, pain in neck and back, etc., which, coincidentally, have all disappeared since I left an alcoholic husband. Yes, he kept me chasing my codependent tail for many years. Not only did he drink to excess, he smoked marijuana, ate himself to 400+ pounds (weighed 180 when I married him), had an up and down Jekyl/Hyde personality, and suffered from numerous weight and alcohol related physical problems. If that wasn’t enough, he had a long-standing gambling problem which was putting us in the poor house. In short, his only purpose in life was to react to his addictions. Nothing else. And I mean nothing else. I took the leap about 2-1/2 years ago and left after one particularly horrendous argument where he was threatening me with bodily harm. He had done this years ago, but cleaned up his act. It was all coming back with the escalating use of alcohol and losses at the casinos.

    Happy ending here? I think not. The moral of the story is I tried to help someone who was unreachable. Could not get past the wall of addictive behavior. I have a new life now, focused on something other than damage control from an alcoholic/addict. You will need a couple of years to collect your nerves and heal. It doesn’t happen overnight. I agonized over whether I made the right decision, but it was obvious that in spite of going to treatment several times, he was never serious about sobriety. I wake up every morning now knowing that I do not have to deal with alcohol, drugs, gambling and abusive behavior by my former significant other. No phone calls about accidents while he is driving drunk; NOTHING but the serenity the Alanon program promised. For me, I had to divorce the alcoholic to obtain that serenity. I’m a strong person so it took me a long time to hit “rock bottom” as a co-dependent, but I’m glad I finally did. There is a whole new world out there. I can guarantee you I won’t make the same mistake twice. I tried to “save” him because he was the father of my children. Didn’t happen. Good luck, Ben. I wish the best for you and your family.

  • Ben

    Thanks, Julie. It’s so helpful to hear from people that are ahead of me in the process and have encouragement to offer. Someone told me “no one regrets leaving an alcoholic”. It’s so simple yet seems so true. He told me, even if she quits, she’s been like this since 12, there are parts of her personality that will never be normal- again, no one regrets leaving an alcoholic.

  • Lois

    my new husband shook when i met him and was not drinking, told me he had almost killed someone and had totally stopped – pot too. I was dumb enough to believe him and my own mother was killed by a drunk driver when i was a young teenager! I believed him….we fell in love w/o his drinking at what was just a few beers on a weekend and not but a couple an evening. I’ve never been around an alcoholic or recovering one so i was clueless or even that he had been such a chronic offender over the last 40 years/4 OWI’s in 25 years. I thought he was just drinking a lot when the accident he told me about happened because his wife had died 6 months earlier. Turns out they both drank together, smoked a lot of pot/wake and bake he called them, and had a wonderful life together doing coke sometimes and partying for 22 years before she died of cancer. We dated for a year and got married this last July. He has since done coke (wont admit it but his good friend told me that was why he was acting so erratic, moody, anxious, short tempered with me when he has always been so kind – then he quit (i know this because of his weird behavior going away) and was only drinking A LOT each night and i am sure smoking dope where I could not smell it. he uses a one hitter so it does not permeate onto his clothes and hair. We are 13 years apart, he is a vivacious and handsome 60 year old and i am 47. I am straight, a glass of wine w/ dinner sometimes and that is about it – i am LOST as to what to do. He has had Hep. C because of using needles twice, once he’s told me about back in the 70’s when he dealt coke and pot and even went to jail for it for a year, it was a small conviction i guess…don’t know much about it really. I thought he wanted a different, clean life, its what he told me! We were so happy for much of this last year until after we got married and he stared all this unbelievable behavior! I don’t have children and other than loving him don’t have a reason to stay. his friends use, he just ignores my wanting to talk about it – when he’s sober if i can catch him before he starts to drink after work every night,or on a weekend day just after lunch. he passes out every night now by 9 and we don’t make love much anymore because he “can’t” either get hard or stay that way and honestly making love to someone that is drunk – even him, is disgusting to me. My point is, he shook when i met him a lot, i was worried it was Parkinson’s and someone else told me it was his body dealing with not drinking. Wow…should have been my first clue to break it off then. I was so naive. He shakes now when he backs of the drinking to two or three or on RARE occasion to please me i think and make himself feel better after he’s said hurtful things to me drunk the night before – he does not drink anything. It only lasts one night if that happens though but boy it’s so nice. He has gotten drunk, been a functioning alcoholic for 40 years! We work at the same place, he is very respected but known for being a God Father type. WHY someone didn’t warn me of that is because they felt sorry him since his wife died, i was new to our location and they thought i would be good for him – while he was doing the Clean thing. Nice for me. Well we fell in love and i’m being hit with this terrible and very emotionally painful reality. I am going to leave him i think but can’t quite bring myself to do it. i have a rental that was brought to my attention my a mutual friend who thinks i should cut my losses and get the hell out – says he’s too old to change now, and get myself a normal life again. I have to admit, learning to live with a drunk is not an option i want to settle on. I love the sober guy not this life this man has lied his way into giving me. Lucky our finances are separate in all ways and we don’t even share car inc. I hate wanting him to get busted because he says if he gets busted he will go to jail instead of house arrest for a year…house arrest would be longer i think- busted drinking and driving that is. I have wondered if i should call from my cell at a restaurant and tell the police that he’s driving drunk so he gets pulled over before he kills us some evening. He drives w/ a beer in his lap everywhere and used to respect my telling him i would not ride with him if he did. now he’ll go without me…if i say that. we live in the country so i go but resent him. I’m angry with him more than i’m tender toward him anymore and the sight of a beer can in his hand makes me sick. I hope you get away from your drunk wife Ben, for your kids sake. Learning to accept this behavior will make them comfortable with it as their only norm and they will attract it in their spouse. Such a sad legacy to pass on when you could leave…..i know it would be ugly but they need one of you to show them what normal feels and looks like, not learning to enable and be co-dependant. God Bless you on your journey Lord knows its a tough road no matter which one you chose.

  • Ned

    my AW shakes every day and drinks about 8 every night after work. Shakes during the work day and then it stops when she gets home and has a couple. I wondered if it was a tell tail sigh when we met and of course….ignored it when i was told it had been that way for a long time and for no apparent reason. ………why do we do that as sober people, ignore things and then get too far in to make any good choices with out allot of suffering to see them through? Sucks.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Thanks for the post, Ned. We have started using fake names on these posts, kinda funny. 🙂 yeah, it seems like all of our stories line up to some degree. My concern is that mine is an ICU nurse and has people’s lives in her hands, her shaky hands.

  • Susie Q

    My neighbor is a cop and a functioning alcoholic. Noticed his right arm was jerking almost uncontrollably tonight as we watched his favorite Friday night cop shows. I had wondered why he seemed so grouchy, hadn’t noticed his lack of the ubiquitous nightcap. He just tested for a promotion and will be required to pass a physical agility test and is probably going on another health kick/cold turkey session. As a friend, it is sad to see his physical condition slowly begin to deteriorate. He can’t keep doing this and not expect excruciating physical side effects. Little I can do for now, just wait to see if he someday decides to ask for help.

  • SJC

    Someone may notice his shaking at work. That happened to a friend of mine. He said he was embarrassed and checked in a hospital to quit.
    A few years later he got married and he and his new wife decided he would start drinking again and see how things went. I thought on–no— but did not say anything. The last time I talked to him he said that his wife came home one night, took the wine glass out of his hand and said your drinking to much. It always circles around.
    I so glad I don’t have that monkey on my back. It must be hard craving, shaking and worse, living inside that mind they all have. I heard Tori Spelling husband (ra)
    say….his mind wants to ruin everything good in his life. I can believe that, after living with my xah and thinking back on all the ODD
    behavior they have day in and day out.

  • Travis

    Sorry to jump on to such an old topic but I need to add a word of warning about alcohol withdrawal symptoms. Do not ignore them. If they become severe call 911.

    My wife of 25 years had been a functioning alcoholic until about two years ago when she ramped up her drinking to the point of starting around noon and staying intoxicated all day and into the night, mostly in bed. I pretty much handled all household duties like cooking, shopping, housecleaning, etc. On the uncommon occasions she got totally sober she started with the hand shakes which meant it was time to start drinking again.

    A few months ago we went to visit our daughter who lives on the East coast (we live on the West coast), which turned out to be about a 10 hour trip with shuttles to and from the airport, flights, and layovers. The day of the trip my wife started drinking early and she was drunk enough that the shuttle driver and I had to practically carry her to the town-car taking us to the airport. Ten hours later when we finally made it to the hotel she was shaking like I had never seen before. Unlike the usual hand shaking, her arms and legs were also shaking. She said it was because she hadn’t eaten much. I knew differently but I went around the corner from the hotel anyway to get us some dinner and when I got back she was having a seizure – eyes rolled up in her head, mouth clenched, and snorting through her nose like an angry bull. After she came out of it it took several minutes before she could speak. I told her that I was calling a cab and that we needed to go to the nearest urgent care. She protested and said she was just really tired and hungry and needed to sleep (this was at about 1 am) so I let her eat some dinner then sleep. I was awoken around 5 am by the bed shaking. When the seizure ended she said she had a tingling feeling in her right arm and leg. I immediately called 911 and by the time they arrived she could no longer speak and was paralyzed on the right side.

    She ended up spending four weeks in a hospital on the other side of the continent because of a cerebral hemorrhage caused by alcohol withdrawal. The neurologist said it could have been fatal. It took about six months for her to recover to the point that she could function normally although she still has lingering effects like weakness and periodic numbness on the right side.

    This scared her enough that she stayed on the wagon for several months but unfortunately she fell off and is back to where she was before this whole ordeal.

    I now monitor any alcohol withdrawal symptoms and she takes anti-seizure medication. The doctors have said as long as she keeps drinking she will need to take the medication and that only after she has been sober for years will they even consider taking her off the meds.

    Moral of the story – don’t ignore the alcohol withdrawal symptoms. We may be tempted to feel like the alcoholic deserves the discomfort they are experiencing and want to let them suffer but it could be a life or death situation.

Leave a Reply