Gait and Balance Deficits in Chronic Alcoholics: No Improvement from 10 Weeks Through 1 Year Abstinence


Reprint requests: Dr. George Fein, Neurobehavioral Research, Inc., 1585 Kapiolani Blvd, Ste. 1030, Honolulu, HI 96814; Tel.: 808-783-8809; Fax: 808-442-1199; E-mail:



Disturbed gait and balance are common and important sequelae of chronic alcoholism. We present longitudinal data on recovery of gait and balance in alcoholics 6 to 15 weeks abstinent at baseline assessment through follow-up assessment 4 to 16 months after baseline.


We performed a follow-up assessment (4 to 16 months after baseline) of gait and balance functioning in 37 short-term (6 to 15 weeks) abstinent alcoholics (STAA), 25 of whom remained abstinent through the follow-up period. Fourteen non-substance-abusing controls (NSAC) were also brought back for a follow-up assessment to examine practice effects.


Alcoholics showed gait and balance impairment versus controls at both the initial and follow-up assessments, showing no improvement in gait and balance measures over the follow-up period. At follow-up, NSAC showed improvement on the Walk on Floor eyes closed measure, possibly representing a practice effect not present in STAA.


This study finds no improvement from about 10 weeks to about 1 year of abstinence in chronic alcoholics. The study is silent with regard to gait and balance recovery that occurs prior to 10 weeks abstinence, and after the first year of abstinence. Other studies suggest some recovery of gait and balance prior to 10 weeks abstinence, and our recent cross-sectional study (Smith and Fein, 2011, Alcohol Clin Exp Res 35:2184–2192) suggests that significant additional recovery occurs in the ensuing years.