Disturbed gait and balance are among the most consistent and salient sequelae of chronic alcoholism. Results of small sample longitudinal investigations have provided evidence that partial recovery of gait and balance functions in alcoholics may be achieved with abstinence. However, abstinence durations reported have been limited, and their power and generalizability have suffered from small sample sizes.
In this study, we employed a cross-sectional approach to assess gait and balance functions in short-term (6 to 15 weeks) abstinent alcoholics (STAA; n = 70) and long-term (minimum 18 months, mean = 7.38 years) abstinent alcoholics (LTAA; n = 82). STAA and LTAA did not differ with respect to lifetime alcohol consumption, family drinking density, or years of education. In addition, we examined the effects of gender and alcohol use variables.
Our main findings were: (i) persistent disturbed gait and balance in STAA and disturbed standing balance in LTAA; (ii) overall less impaired performance of LTAA compared with STAA on gait and balance measures; and (iii) worse performance of STAA (but not LTAA) women, compared with men, on standing balance without visual control.
Our results suggest that alcoholics’ gait and balance can continue to recover with long abstinence from alcohol, but that deficits persist, especially in eyes-closed standing balance. In addition, our results are consistent with more severe alcohol-induced ataxia in women than in men but suggest that with extended abstinence, women recover gait and balance function to a level comparable with men.
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