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Substance Abuse

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A teenage boy crashes his car on the way home from a party and sustains a traumatic brain injury (TBI); he had been drinking. A once successful business woman finds herself depending on prescription drugs that she started using to manage pain after her TBI. A soldier who sustained a TBI in Iraq develops a drinking problem three years after his injury, causing problems at home, and deepening his feelings of despair.

Unfortunately, brain injury and drugs and alcohol often go hand in hand. People who abuse drugs and alcohol have a higher incidence of sustaining a brain injury — from falling or driving while intoxicated, for example. And the effects of alcohol and drugs only get worse for people after a brain injury.

Why not to use drugs and alcohol after a brain injury
There are many reasons why using drugs and alcohol after a brain injury is not recommended. Here are a few of the main ones:

  • People who use alcohol or other drugs after they have a brain injury don’t recover as much.
  • Brain injuries cause problems in balance, walking, or talking that get worse when a person uses alcohol or other drugs.
  • People who have had a brain injury often say or do things without thinking first, a problem that is made worse by using alcohol and other drugs.
  • Brain injuries cause problems with thinking, like concentration or memory, and using alcohol or other drugs makes these problems worse.
  • After brain injury, alcohol and other drugs have a more powerful effect.
  • People who have had a brain injury are more likely to have times that they feel low or depressed, and drinking alcohol and getting high on other drugs makes this worse.
  • After a brain injury, drinking alcohol or using other drugs can cause a seizure.
  • People who drink alcohol or use other drugs after a brain injury are more likely to have another brain injury.

Treatments and strategies
People with brain injury and their families should know that there are treatments and strategies out there, and ones that can be very effective. Some of them include:

It’s crucial for people to get treated for both the TBI and the addiction simultaneously and by someone who knows about both. Seek out a program or programs where there is collaboration and communication between the brain injury treatment providers and the substance abuse treatment providers.


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