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Alcoholics May Never Fully Regain Balance

Ex-drinkers still tend to sway, study finds

FRIDAY, Dec. 18 (HealthDay News) -- Long-term sobriety can improve balance problems in alcoholics, but they may not be able to regain full stability while standing, a new study has found.

"With sobriety, gait and balance become stable. However, even with prolonged sobriety, people with long-term chronic alcohol dependence can have difficulty in standing upright. Their balance can be marked by sway that exceeds what most of us experience while standing still in one place, especially with feet together and hands down by one's side, that is, without use of natural stabilizing factors," study corresponding author Edith V. Sullivan, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, said in a news release.

This lack of stability -- the result of alcohol-related brain injury -- can increase the risk of fall-related injury and death, the study authors noted.

Sullivan and colleagues tested postural sway in 34 alcoholic men, 15 alcoholic women, 22 control men and 29 control women.

"Results show the sway paths of alcoholics are longer and cover a wider area than those of controls for a given time," Sullivan said. "However, it is important to note that the standing stability of sober alcoholics can be improved by using stabilizing factors. These factors can include simple aids like turning a light on in a dark room, touching a banister while walking down a flight of stairs, or walking or standing with feet apart rather than with ankles close together."

The study was released online Dec. 18 in advance of publication in the March 2010 print issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

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The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has answers to frequently asked questions about alcoholism.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Stanford University School of Medicine, news release, Dec. 18, 2009

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