Restless leg syndrome alcohol withdrawal

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Currently, there isn't any direct link between alcohol withdrawal symptoms and restless legs syndrome, and if you experience symptoms of RLS while going through alcohol addiction treatment, chances are that it is an underlying condition. 

But alcohol can make the symptoms of RLS worse, and if you are experiencing restless legs syndrome after you drink alcohol, then maybe you should consider cessation of the alcohol use to help in treating this condition. This could also alleviate any other RLS symptoms you may be unaware of. 

What is restless legs syndrome? 

Restless Legs Syndrome or RLS is a peripheral nerve disease whose main symptom is an uncomfortable sensation in your legs, leading to pulling or tugging, plus an overwhelming need to move your legs. 

Some people will feel the need to walk most often during inconvenient times especially if it happens at night or the need to pull their legs. This can cause sleep disturbances. 

The frustration and discomfort from RLS during alcohol detoxing can easily tempt people to relapse, or self-medicate with sleep medicine , just so they can get rid of the unpleasant sensations and sleep. 

Symptoms of restless leg syndrome 

The primary symptom of restless leg syndrome  is the urge to move your legs, and substance use disorder may worsen these symptoms. 

Secondary RLS symptoms includes: 

  • Worsening urge to move your legs especially after sitting for a long time. 
  • Kicking or twitching your legs as you sleep. 

Triggers for RLS 

Suffering from substance use disorder doesn't help much when it comes to RLS, especially due to the acute withdrawal symptoms. There are however some situations that can worsen the overwhelming urge to move your legs.  

They include: 

Anxiety and stress  

These are big triggers for RLS, and when you combine with other protracted withdrawal symptoms of alcohol, you have a very uncomfortable situation on your hands.  

When it develops, and you feel your stress levels are out of control, yoga and deep breathing exercises can help. 

Nicotine addiction 

Nicotine addiction or smoking cigarettes is another trigger for RLS. Combine this nicotine addiction treatment with your treatment options to alleviate the risk factor of making RLS worse while you are going through acute alcohol withdrawal. 

Alcohol use disorder 

Most people suffering from RLS usually report that alcoholism leads to a worsening of the condition. Although alcohol tends to make sleeping easier, it also interferes with your quality of sleep and will make the mild symptoms of RLS worse. 

Additionally, quitting alcohol use cold turkey can lead to the onset of this condition where there was none. 

Vigorous exercises 

According to the Restless Leg Syndrome Foundation, (1) one of the triggers for RLS is vigorous exercising. While mild exercises can help ease the symptoms at night, vigorous exercises on the other hand will have the opposite effect. 


According to medical literature, there are various medications used to treat different diseases that can have adverse effects on the RLS symptoms, and they include:  

  • The use of anti-nausea drugs, such as what pregnant women use. 
  • Medication to treat end stage renal disease. 
  • Medication for treating rheumatoid arthritis. 
  • Anticonvulsant medications. 
  • Medication to treat iron deficiencies. 
  • Uncontrolled home remedies. 
  • Medication to treat insomnia. 
  • Folic acid. 
  • Sleep medicine.
  • More info: Abbeycare's full guide to Alcohol Detox

Too much caffeine 

Caffeine is a stimulant and most people that quit alcohol cold turkey, tend to become addicted to caffeine.

According to experts, this is a big problem, and in fact, cutting out caffeine, cola drinks, tea and other sports drinks can help ease the symptoms somewhat. 

Does alcohol withdrawal cause restless leg syndrome? 

Yes and No. While in some cases you may experience restless legs as a withdrawal syndrome, there isn't enough evidence to suggest that this is a sure possibility, and in fact, RLS has not been documented as a symptom for the treatment of substance use disorders. 

In the worst case, alcohol will worsen the symptoms and although no one knows for sure that alcohol is a cause, during alcohol withdrawal, there is normally some twitching and restlessness.  

Alcohol and drug treatment will also create an increased risk for worsening RLS in anyone who has it as an already diagnosed condition. 

Alcohol use disorder and Restless Legs Syndrome are however interconnected in the following ways: 

Through alcohol withdrawal 

Alcohol withdrawal is accompanied by a wide range of symptoms such as delirium tremens, anxiety, shakiness, and many others.  

When your body tries to correct some of the damage caused by chronic alcohol consumption, you will experience neuropathy, which is described as the tingling feeling in your arms and legs, that may imitate RLS or make it worse for people suffering from this condition. 

People going through substance abuse treatment, normally experience difficulties in sleeping due to the symptoms and again, this only worsens RLS, and if you do not treat RLS symptoms, they will only get worse. 

Alcohol and sleep 

A high intake of alcohol disrupts your sleep and rapid eye movement or REM sleep which is an extremely important type of rest when trying to achieve deep restorative sleep, and helps you function normally during the day. 

Alcohol or substance abuse problems causes one to have poor sleep patterns, leading to a tired feeling all day long.  

This lack of enough sleep is a risk factor that increases the RLS condition. 

Late night alcohol drinking 

When you drink just before going to bed, you harm your healthy sleep, and you may keep awakening in the night. Of course, for some people, alcohol helps them to sleep, but what you may not know is that it decreases the quality of sleep and makes you feel more tired. 

Night time drinking and drug use will only disrupt you and cause RLS to get worse among other symptoms that are as a result of drinking. 

Can alcohol worsen restless leg syndrome? 

Yes. Restless Legs Syndrome normally has two main components; Paresthesia and Akathisia. 

Although it involves your lower extremities, it can also include the upper extremities as well such as your head and torso. 

Paresthesia is different from typical neuropathies as it’s not as painful, but rather, most people will describe it as an odd sensation , and use words such as feeling ticklish and creepy-crawly. 

Now, a few hours after your last drink, the withdrawal symptoms of alcohol addiction will set in, and some of them include anxiety and stress. These will cause paresthesia to worsen. 

Akathisia is a need to move or motor restlessness. What you may feel is some momentary relief when you rub your extremities or move about. But it returns pretty quickly.

Again, after a few days of your last drink, when trying to treat alcoholism, the withdrawal symptoms will only make this condition worse. 

What is the cause of RLS? 

The main cause of RLS, away from alcohol withdrawal is an abnormality of your central dopamine, or iron in your substantia nigra. 

According to a recent placebo-controlled trial or double-blind research, a group of RLS patients were evaluated and it showed that, when one withdraws from the addiction of drugs such as benzodiazepines, or other forms of narcotics, RLS can develop and cause some suffering. 

Additionally, typical myalgia during the withdrawal process for opioid addiction can confound the diagnosis for restless legs syndrome RLS. 

Gabapentin on the other hand is not metabolized by the liver of a person who has a 3% protein binding and hence, it is excreted through the kidneys, which makes it easy for such people to abuse opiate drugs and engage in substance abuse making it easy to develop RLS. 

Is periodic limb movements the same as RLS? 

Yes. The PLMS or Periodic Limb Movements are part of Akathisia when you are going to bed. It occurs together with RLS, and the person feels sick and tired in the morning due to a lack of deep sleeping. 

The inverse relationship between dopamine and serotine is that the most selective serotonin inhibitors and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors can exacerbate the RLS and PLMS. 

Tremors and RLS 

You are likely to develop some tremors when going through severe alcohol withdrawal, and this can be suppressed by home remedies and specific drugs.

After the process of detoxing, patients can suffer from persistent tremors that are often benign, but the parkinsonian and cerebellar tremors must be ruled out before RLS can be diagnosed. 

Tremors also make RLS worse. 

How long does it take for restless legs syndrome to go away? 

Not long. RLS has got to be one of the most irritating substance abuse treatment disorder although it doesn't take too long to disappear. 

How long it will last however, will depend on the length of time you have abused drugs and alcohol, plus whether you keep craving them. 

It can be one of the symptoms that lasts for a week or so, and the secondary RLS symptoms are not as bad. They will go away on their own in a few days’ time. 

The end is in sight, especially when going through alcohol withdrawal to treat addiction, and you must never give up.

This disorder, though uncomfortable and likely to cause severe insomnia in the person suffering from alcohol abuse goes away very fast. 

Additionally, there are some things you can do to make it easier on you. We discuss these options below. 

When it comes to alcohol withdrawal symptoms, most of them go away in about ten days as well, and the RLS will go away with them.  


How to treat restless leg syndrome symptoms? 

The treatment of RLS can sometimes be hard, and will require the help of a medical professional, but it helps to first treat the underlying condition causing RLS such as a lack of enough iron. This will go a long way towards relieving the symptoms of RLS.  

When you correct the iron deficiency, chances are that even the physical symptoms of alcohol withdrawal may not worsen the RLS disorder in the person seeking treatment.  

Taking iron supplements may help with this, but after the doctor has already checked your iron levels. 

For a person with RLS without any other associated conditions, such as alcohol withdrawal, the doctor will mostly recommend lifestyle changes and when they are not effective, there are some medicines he can prescribe, which include: 

Medicine to increase dopamine in your brain 

These are highly effective when trying to increase the levels of dopamine in your brain. They also help with the withdrawal symptoms and tend to lessen the effects of addiction treatment. 

This has been approved by the food and drug administration to help moderate the severe cases of RLS. 

They however have some short-term side effects such as nausea, fatigue and light-headedness. and they can also cause some impulse control problems like daytime drowsiness and gambling. 

Medicine to affect your calcium channels

Certain medicine like gabapentin enacarbil gabapentin (Neurontin, Gralise) pregabalin (Lyrica)and (Horizant) can work for people suffering from RLS. 


Although narcotics only work to relieve mild symptoms, they may also become addictive when used in high doses. Additionally, anyone with substance use disorder shouldn't use this. 

Sleeping medicine and other types of relaxants  

This type of medicine will help in sleeping better at night, although it will not eliminate the sensations in your legs.  

It may however cause daytime drowsiness and it should only be used when no other treatment offers relief. 

How to relieve restless leg syndrome symptoms 

For most people experiencing the uncomfortable effects of RLS there are a few things you can do to relieve the most severe symptoms, and help you deal better with the condition. 

They include:  

  • Avoiding alcohol consumption, especially at night. 
  • Avoiding caffeine. 
  • Moderate exercises daily. 
  • Maintaining a regular sleep schedule. 
  • Massaging your legs regularly. 
  • Reviewing prescriptions with your doctor. 

Additionally, you could make simple lifestyle changes to alleviate the RLS symptoms. This includes 

Taking regular baths  

Soaking in warm baths can really help with RLS. Additionally, massaging your feet will help you relax your muscles. 

Applying some cool or warm packs 

Using heat or cold can help. Alternate these tow to lessen the limb sensations as well. 

Maintaining good sleep habits 

Fatigue generally makes RLS worse. It is therefore important to learn how you can practice good hygiene. 

Having a cool, comfortable, and quiet sleeping environment is paramount for a successful sleep cycle and also going to be early and rising at the same time each day will make it easy for your body to adapt to the new changes. 


As we have mentioned, moderate and not vigorous exercises will help with the symptoms of RLS. Overdoing this point will have adverse effects and make it worse. 

Avoiding caffeinated drinks 

Cutting back on caffeine or any other caffeinated drinks will help with Restless legs. Try and avoid all other products that may contain caffeine such as tea, chocolate, and other sports drinks. Do this for a few weeks to see how you feel. 

Using a foot wrap 

A foot wrap is designed especially for a person with RLS and what it does is put pressure on your foot which may relieve the symptoms. 

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About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: December 20, 2023