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The Effects of Alcoholism Continue into Sobriety

Balance problems are nothing new for those who are under the influence of alcohol, but a new study indicates that balance could be affected for years after sobriety. Researchers at Honolulu’s Neurobehavioral Research Inc. have found a link between heavy alcohol use, sobriety and balance; balance is never completely recovered for former alcoholics.

The study compared alcoholics sober for six to 15 weeks to former alcoholics sober for years and to non-alcoholics. Before commencement, each participant was tested for drugs and alcohol to ensure the results were not tainted. Then each was given balance tests to perform twice, once with their eyes open and once with them closed.

Tests consisted of many balance tests similar to field sobriety tests, some of which included: walking a line, standing on one leg, and standing for 60 seconds with one foot behind the other (heel-to-toe) and arms crossed across the chest.  

Roughly 200 volunteers participated in the study: 70 recently sober people, 82 long-sober individuals, and 52 people who had never been alcoholics. Overall, the results were pretty conclusive. Those recently sober fared the worst on both tests, but the group of individuals who were many years sober also fared poorly in the closed-eye balance test (both as compared to the non-alcoholics of various ages close to the ages of the former alcoholics).

These findings may indicate that alcohol rehabilitation comes with a new set of issues to overcome. Addiction specialists may need to assist former addicts with their balance in addition to the battle against the bottle. Fortunately, clinics, like New Mexico’s Vista Taos, are prepared to provide guidance in all walks of life, including physical balance.

In fact, most addiction specialists in alcohol rehabilitation centers are already aware that the newly sober battle balance problems. Often, in the first year of sobriety, the former alcoholic will experience more accidents than occurred in the previous year, while intoxicated. This is generally attributed to changes in the cerebellum during recovery. Since the cerebellum controls motor control, it is no wonder that it must readjust to the non-chemically induced state of sobriety in that first year of recovery.

However, the findings that indicate balance problems continue well beyond the one year anniversary of sobriety are a little more surprising. Most former alcoholics can recover to 80 to 90% total balance recovery, and this small window of affected balance is usually not detectable in daily life, except in severe cases. Furthermore, since the study indicated that the most impaired balance in the long-sober individuals occurs when their eyes are closed, the balance issues may not be detectable at all to those far removed from the immediate family.

Even so, alcohol rehabilitation centers and addiction specialists alike can take solace in further proof that alcohol addiction is beginning to be viewed as a chronic condition, mostly because of new links to genetics and to long-term health effects. Possibly soon, alcoholism may be viewed less as a stigma and more as a chronic illness that deserves treatment, thereby affording treatment more often to the people who need it most.

While most people can make a substantial balance recovery with the help of addiction specialists at alcohol rehabilitation centers, the findings also indicate that more concern may need to be placed on the recovered elderly. Balance problems in the elderly who have recovered from alcohol addiction could lead to more falls and more injuries in this subset, which is already subject to increased health concerns surrounding falls. Potentially, the knowledge could encourage more vigilance on the parts of family and care providers amongst the recovered elderly.

Overall, the study gives recovered alcoholics, families, doctors, and addiction specialists at alcohol rehabilitation centers hope for the future. The recovered and recovering alcoholics can look forward to a renewed sense of balance in the coming years of sobriety. Their families can come to understand alcoholism as a chronic illness. Doctors and caretakers may take away the knowledge that balance problems may be ongoing in the recovered alcoholics, especially as age sets in. And addiction specialists can further help their patients find the balance in everyday life while they rediscover their physical balance in the years to come.

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