Recognizing TBI in Substance Abuse Support Groups


I run a substance abuse support group and I suspect one of the members in the group may have experienced a brain injury at one time. His behavior is often inappropriate and he has trouble remembering what’s been said or following along with the conversation. I’m afraid to ask him directly because he gets angry easily. Any suggestions?


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So as a substance abuse support group leader, you have a member who you suspect may have had a brain injury, probably because of some of the behaviors like not being able to remember, not being able to follow the group, and also you're a little concerned because maybe his anger is a bit more pronounced now and you're concerned about how he might take your asking him about brain injury. I think your concern about wanting to do something is important. I think I might start, though, with asking myself as the leader, "What do I know about brain injury, "and what do I know about how I can help the group process "be the best it can be for this group member?" So there are many things we have to think about after brain injury in terms of just how a person receives information, remembers it, how long they are able to pay attention, and when they start to not be able to follow the conversation or forget what's been talked about, how they start to react. And if you as a group leader are more aware of and in touch with what some of those problems might be for him and at the same time maybe have some ideas about ways you could help accommodate or change the process in the group so that it fits his abilities better, the group in general and specifically for him might be a better experience. So I think it's very important for professionals and paraprofessionals and peer leaders in the substance abuse field to be aware of traumatic brain injury and, most important, to be aware of how they can make just even small changes to what they're doing to make the treatment or group experience more valuable and effective for the individual who has had a brain injury and has a substance abuse problem.
Posted on BrainLine August 30, 2011.

About the author: John Corrigan, PhD

Dr. John Corrigan is a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State University, and director of the Ohio Valley Center for Brain Injury Prevention and Rehabilitation. He is the project director for the Ohio Regional Traumatic Brain Injury Model System.

John Corrigan

Comments (2)

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Also, do you know of any support groups for caregivers that struggle with the challenge of TBI and substance abuse addiction?

Hi Dr. Corrigan,

I have a son that sustained a TBI at age 11, he was hit by a car while riding his bike. As you can imagine it's been a long and bumpy road since. He is now 32 and spent the entirety of last year in a substance abuse recovery program due to his acquired alcohol abuse many years after his TBI. He has a closes had injury and most of the damage was right frontal lobe. Lots of trouble with the following rules and decision making and got into much trouble because of inappropriate behavior exacerbated by alcohol use. He's very bright and in fact graduated with an associates degree while in the throws of alcohol addiction. He unfortunately has just announced his decision to use marijuana as he says it helps him focus better and keeps him calmer than Adderall. Can you possibly address this subject?