By Katti Gray
For some people, smoking and drinking go hand-in-hand. Those habits, however, may affect individuals’ ability to stand up or keep from falling down.
A new study showed that even after smokers with drinking problems stopped abusing alcohol, they still had trouble balancing.
This study's lead researcher was Thomas Paul Schmidt, MS, of the University of California, San Francisco radiology and biomedical imaging department and the San Francisco Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Center.
Schmidt and his research team compared the postural stability of 115 smokers and non-smokers who were enrolled in Kaiser Permanente and VA out-patient treatment clinics for alcohol abusers to the postural stability of 71 smokers and non-smokers who were light drinkers. None of the study participants had hip, knee, back or other physical injuries or nerve damage that might affect their stability. All the study participants lived in the San Francisco area.
While drinking too much alcohol is known to cause some drinkers to stumble, these researchers set out to determine how well smokers who abused alcohol and those who did not abuse alcohol were able to maintain their balance.
One week, five weeks and 34 weeks after the study started, these researchers subjected the 115 smokers and non-smokers who were abstaining from alcohol to standard tests of people’s ability to stay balanced on their feet while their eyes were closed and while they were opened. After 40 weeks, the researchers administered the same tests to the smokers who were light drinkers.
Based on their findings, these researchers concluded that smokers who had been treated for alcohol abuse and were abstaining from alcohol performed ”significantly’’ poorer on tests of their ability to keep their balance than did non-smokers who also were abstaining from alcohol.
In addition, smokers who were light drinkers had worse test results than did non-smokers who were light drinkers, the researchers found.
"One of our key findings was that non-smoking [alcohol dependent] individuals improved significantly on a measure of postural stability over the course of eight months of sobriety," Schmidt said in a press release announcing the study. "Smoking [alcohol dependent] individuals exhibited no significant improvement across a similar time interval. This suggests that the [nervous and other systems] … responsible for postural stability are impacted by smoking — and even after chronic alcohol consumption has ceased."
He continued, "We hope that our findings will encourage more treatment providers to consider concurrent smoking cessation treatment within the greater context of treatment for [alcohol dependence]. We also hope that individuals in treatment may consider smoking cessation as an aid for facilitating a more speedy recovery."
It’s estimated that anywhere from 60 percent to 90 percent of those being treated for alcohol abuse are chronic smokers, these researchers wrote.
This study was published online April 8 in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
The National Institutes of Health and San Francisco VA funded this study.
These researchers said they had no financial or other conflicts of interest that would affect this study’s design, analysis or outcomes.