DR. HOOK- Pass it up: Alcohol-induced problems no fun

Dionne Warwick ruled the airwaves before her show, Solid Gold, became tainted with green and her Psychic Hotline went bankrupt— couldn't predict that!  

"If you see me walking down the street, And I start to cry, Each time we meet, Walk on by... dah, dah, dah, dah, dah." Johnny Cash Walked the Line and probably even drank Johnny Walker. Run DMC rapped for us to "Walk This Way" with Aerosmith. (Boy, Steven Tyler has some pair of lips, huh? Eek!)

During the Civil Rights movement, people in Montgomery, Alabama, walked a long way during the bus boycott. Eleanor Roosevelt walked around the US to help the country because her husband couldn't. Porgy in Gershwin's Porgy & Bess had no legs, so Bess had to walk and dance for the two of them– so sad!

What happens when you find it difficult to walk?

Alcoholic cerebellar degeneration can occur in heavy drinkers over the course of time. The cerebellum is the back part of the brain that controls coordination. (I was in a show choir, "The Top 20," and we had a member named Chuck who sang like Placido Domingo and moved like Tucker Carlson on Dancing with the Stars. Neither have very good cerebellums from what I could tell. Oh, dear!)  

With enough alcohol, especially when combined with poor nutrition, the cerebellum can start to pickle up— shrink from cell death.  

"How much alcohol?" I'm sure many of you are asking right this very second. Everyone is different, but it appears to be about five ounces of alcohol a day over 10 years. Remember, there's one ounce of alcohol in a 12-ounce beer, four ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

So when I hear a patient say he or she drinks a six-pack a night, I don't envision Germans lifting their beers. A half a bottle of wine a night doesn't make me think about Paris and cheese. I think about a lot of medical problems.

Most of people with alcoholic cerebellar degeneration are malnourished, but a study has seen that even well-nourished alcohol abusers can develop cerebellar degeneration. The CT scan or MRI of the brain usually shows a withered cerebellum, kind of like Mary-Kate Olsen.

Symptoms of alcoholic cerebellar degeneration come on pretty gradually over weeks to months, although sometimes it can hit someone as fast as Karl Rove's e-mails disappeared.

The legs are affected first, so walking becomes difficult. Some people think their legs are weak when in fact it's poor leg control. Falling down, tripping, and not being able to walk in a straight line is pretty common— hey, sounds like a fraternity party. But this is no party.  

If things get worse, use of the hands and arms can diminish. Even the eye muscles can stop working well, leading to double vision. And slurred speech from facial muscle problems makes victims sound drunk even when they're sober.  

Unfortunately, there isn't a "cure." With abstinence from alcohol and good nutrition, alcoholic cerebellar degeneration can stop progressing. Physical therapy and maybe devices like canes or walkers can help the person ambulate better. But things won't improve because the damage has been done. Also, other organ damage often occurs from the chronic alcohol abuse– like dementia, peripheral nerve damage, and liver and pancreas problems.

The Walk of Fame probably contains the stars of a lot of celebrities who abused alcohol, because in Hollywood, liquor is like holy water. Alcohol in moderation is probably good for the body, but not if it walks all over you.