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Surprising Science

Alcoholics May Wobble Forever

Wobbly walking and clumsy moves are classic signs that someone's been drinking, and a new study suggests balance problems can afflict heavy drinkers for years after they sober up.

What’s the Latest Development?


Researchers at Neurobehavioral Research Inc., in Honolulu, want to know how long the physical effects of alcoholism last. Scientists recently studied the balance abilities and gaits of 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. The researchers concluded that physical effects brought on by alcoholism can linger. “There’s an 80 to 90 percent recovery, but there’s still some residual effects,” said the lead researcher.

What’s the Big Idea?

The study’s conclusion suggests there is a point of no return when it comes to alcohol and the brain. If nerve cells are too damaged, they cannot recover. Professionals hope this data will emphasize the point that alcohol addiction is a treatable disease: “A lot of people don’t think about addictions as chronic medical illnesses, but they are in every way,” said Dr. Kevin Hill, psychiatrist-in-charge at the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Treatment Center at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. Hill says some alcoholics may permanently lose their balance. 


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