Study Links Alcoholism, Poor Childhood Coordination

Toddlers who were slow to walk more apt to become alcoholics, study found

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MONDAY, March 14(HealthDay News) -- Developmental problems in childhood in an area of the brain responsible for coordination may be linked to alcoholism in adulthood, new research suggests.

Newborns with poor muscle tone and toddlers who took longer than normal to sit or learn to walk were at increased risk for alcoholism at 30 years of age, investigators at the University of Kansas Medical Center found.

"The key finding is that infants who exhibit a subtle delay in motor coordination appear to be at increased risk for developing alcoholism later in life," researcher Barry Liskow, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences, said in a prepared statement.

The authors stressed, however, that developmental delays certainly don't mean a child is destined to become alcoholic later in adulthood.

Reporting in the March issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, the Kansas team analyzed data on 241 adults who, as babies, were part of a Danish study conducted from 1959 to 1961.

This new study concluded that deficits in muscle tone five days after birth, along with infants' delays in learning to sit and in learning to walk, were significant predictors of alcohol dependence at age 30.

The cerebellum -- an area of the brain responsible for motor skills and coordination -- may be the factor linking childhood movement difficulties and adult alcoholism, the researchers said.

"Combined with suggestions that the cerebellum may be involved in the coordination of emotional and cognitive functioning as well as motor functions, this finding opens the door for exploring whether development delays or other insults to the cerebellum are related to the development of alcoholism," Liskow said.

"The motor coordination deficits that we found were minor deficits," study co-author Ann Manzardo, a research assistant professor, stressed in a prepared statement.

"The subjects were not disabled or impaired in any way -- they were just consistently lagging in several important benchmarks. Since the study involved primarily high-risk men, we can't be certain how well this will translate to the normal population," she added.

"I certainly don't want to scare people who might think if their child isn't walking at one year, that he's going to become an alcoholic," she said. "All this study does is provide some preliminary evidence that developmental factors related to the cerebellum may also be associated with the later development of alcoholism."

More information

The U.S. National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse has more about alcoholism.

SOURCE: Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, news release, March 14, 2005

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