Continued disruption of movement among alcoholics despite abstinence

"Uncomplicated" alcoholism refers to the disease that affects a majority of alcoholics who do not demonstrate clinical symptoms of alcoholism-related disorders such as cirrhosis, dementia, or amnesia. However, rigorous neuropsychological examination has revealed that this population may indeed have cognitive and motor deficits that range in severity from mild to moderate. A study in the May issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research examines the cerebellar functional integrity of patients with uncomplicated alcoholism, finding that the quality and regularity of their movement is disrupted.

"We use the term 'uncomplicated alcoholism' to refer to individuals who meet diagnostic criteria for alcohol dependence but are apparently free of medical, cognitive, or motor abnormalities that can accompany alcoholism," said Edith Sullivan, associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine and the study's lead author. "These abnormalities include Korsakoff's syndrome or alcoholic cerebellar degeneration, and are marked by clinically detectable behavioral deficits, for example, compromised ability to remember new information or to maintain postural stability."

Sullivan noted that previous research has found that excessive, chronic alcohol consumption can result in damage to cerebellar cellular structure, shown by postmortem examinations, as well as shrinkage of regional cerebellar volumes, shown by in vivo (living) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies.

"Certain regions of the cerebellum that are damaged by chronic alcoholism are important for regulating smooth movement of the arms and legs," said Sullivan. "Selective damage of these structures can cause jerky and somewhat dyscoordinated movement. Thus, even when an alcoholic becomes sober, 'ataxia of movement' or instability and compromised movement fluidity can ensue."

Despite awareness of motor abnormalities in alcoholics, said Peter R.


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