When you wake up with a hangover, your body typically feels like a shell. Your knees are weak, your arms are heavy, there might be vomit on your sweater already, mom's spaghetti. In addition to these familiar hangover symptoms, you may feel like your whole body is shaky or weak, from the moment you fumble to lift a Pedialyte bottle to your lips, until your first official hangover meal of the day.
As it turns out, these quakes and trembles are a common side effect of heavy drinking, but it's more than just dehydration. Shakiness is a sign that your sympathetic nervous system, aka the "autonomic nervous system," is doing extra work to get your body back to its baseline, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Racing heart, jitteriness, and sweating are some other common giveaways that your autonomic nervous system is working in overdrive during a hangover.
Some say that a hangover is like a mild "alcohol withdrawal" period. "If you like drinking because it produces euphoria and reduces anxiety, the next day you get a rebound effect," Aaron White, PhD, senior scientific advisor to the director of the NIAAA told Refinery29. Of course, a hangover occurs after one bout of drinking, and alcohol withdrawal refers to symptoms that occur when someone who drinks excessive amounts of alcohol on a regular basis abruptly stops drinking, according to MedlinePlus. But the symptoms of a hangover and those of alcohol withdrawal are surprisingly similar, especially when it comes to the shakes.
To break it down even further, alcohol withdrawal tremors occur because the brains of people who regularly drink a lot of alcohol have become conditioned to operating under lower levels of stimulation, according to American Addiction Centers. When there's suddenly no more alcohol in the system, the brain gets overwhelmed by all the extra activity, which causes the hands and other body parts to feel shaky. This could also explain why hangover symptoms typically peak once someone's blood alcohol concentration reaches zero.
Obviously, the answer to getting rid of the shakes is absolutely not to continue drinking. (On that note, alcohol withdrawal is a very serious condition. Someone who is experiencing withdrawal or struggling with substance abuse should seek support.) But if you're experiencing an acute bout of hangover tremors from one night of drinking, the good news is that it will go away once your hangover subsides. Your best bet is to take care of yourself — and maybe drink a little less next time.
If you are struggling with substance abuse, please call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for free and confidential information.