`Heavy drinking may leave you tipsy for years`

Washington: Wobbly walking and clumsy movesare classic signs of alcoholics. Now, a new study has found that heavy drinking has a major impact on coordination for years after giving up the bottle.

Researchers at Neurobehavioral Research Inc in Honolulu,Hawaii, found that alcoholics who had only recently given up struggled to walk straight along a line or stand heel to toe with their arms folded for a minute with their eyes closed in tests, LiveScience.com reported.

For their study, the team analysed the balance abilitiesand gaits of more than 200 volunteers, including diagnosed alcoholics who had been sober for several weeks, those who had been sober for an average of seven years, and people with no history of alcohol dependence.

Each participant was put through a three-part test"similar to the things that might be done in field sobriety tests," said Dr George Fein, lead author of the study published in `Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research`.

The volunteers were first screened for recent drug and alcohol use, then asked to perform a series of balance tests such as standing heel-to-toe with their arms folded across the chest for 60 seconds, standing on one leg, or walking along a line. Each test was repeated with the volunteers` eyes closed.

Of the more than 200 volunteers, the 70 recently soberones (who had not had alcohol for six to 15 weeks) performed the worst. But in tasks with their eyes closed, the 82 long-sober volunteers also performed noticeably worse than the 52 people who had never been alcoholics.

"There`s an 80 to 90 per cent recovery, but there`s still some residual effects," said Fein.
Balance problems are commonly seen among the recently sober in detoxification centers.

"In the first year of recovery, generally, more minor accidents occur than in the year preceding," said Dr Ken Thompson, medical director at Caron Treatment Centers.

Addiction experts attribute this "temporary ataxia," orlack of muscle coordination, to damage to the cerebellum in the brain, said Dr Kevin Hill, psychiatrist-in-charge at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, the US.

Until now, balance problems that continue for years after sobriety have usually been noted only in extreme cases, such as in people whose alcohol abuse led to a form of psychosis, said Fein.

"What we have shown is that these [coordination] effectsare present in alcoholics in the general population," he added.


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