Alcohol dependence can cause gait and balance problems, but some recovery… (Brent Lewin / Bloomberg )
Alcoholism can cause gait and balance problems, but a study finds that abstinence may bring about some improvements.
The study looked at the effects of short-term and long-term abstinence by giving gait and standing balance tests to three groups:
- 70 alcoholics who had abstained from alcohol for six to 15 weeks
- 82 alcoholics who had abstained for approximately 18 months to 22 years, or an average of about seven years
- 52 non-alcoholics serving as a control group
The alcoholic groups didn't differ on factors such as lifetime drinking or years of education.
Researchers found that, over time, the gait and balance of the alcoholics improved with abstinence. However, when participants did the tests with their eyes closed, the results were not as good as with their eyes open, leading the researchers to believe that areas of the brain that regulate balance may not fully recover.
"Chronic alcohol abuse consistently damages the cerebellum, a complex structure located at the back of the brain below the cerebrum," co-author Stan Smith, a neurobehavioral scientist with Neurobehavioral Research Inc., said in a news release. "The cerebellum has multiple functions, including control of balance and coordination. ... Long-term alcohol dependence also results in impaired dopamine transmission in the striatum, an important area for motor control."
In the short-term abstinence group, men outperformed women on some of the tests, suggesting alcoholism may result in worse balance and gait problems for women. However, with long-term abstinence, gender differences disappeared.
The study was released Thursday and will be published in the December 2011 issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.