5 Reasons Why Substance Abuse is Linked to Brain Injury

By Roger Foisy on February 10th, 2014

Substance abuse is the overindulgence in, compulsive use of, or dependence on drugs and/or alcohol, particularly to the point of interference with work, home, or social life.

Any substance use by an individual who has suffered from a traumatic brain injury (TBI), including a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI), can have serious repercussions. It can make recovery times longer and symptoms worse, as well as interacting poorly with prescribed medications.

Yet, there are several connections between substance abuse and brain injury. The following are many of the reasons why you or your loved one may develop a substance abuse problem after suffering from a TBI:

1. Difficulty Changing Habits

If a person used (or abused) substances prior to their brain injury, it is common to see a return to these old habits – especially if their friends or relatives also engage in alcohol or drug use.

2. Coping Mechanism

The life changes associated with TBI can be stressful to cope with. Frustration, anger, sadness, and inability to control mood are normal responses and symptoms of brain injury. Substance abuse is often an attempt to cope with these stressors.

3. Increased Effects

A person with a brain injury will be affected more strongly by smaller amounts of alcohol and drugs, as the substance interacts with the damaged brain. This may be experienced as pleasurable, and lead to abuse.

4. Decreased Ability to Self-Monitor Social Behaviour

Various cognitive abilities can be impacted by a traumatic brain injury, including those used to self-monitor appropriate social behaviour (judgement, planning, organizing, problem-solving, etc.). The result can be a failure to foresee the consequences of alcohol or drug use.

5. New Social Groups

Peer groups can shift after a brain injury, as the injured person adjusts to their new situation and challenges. If members of the new social group use substances, the person with a brain injury may use as well (particularly in light of their decreased ability to self-monitor).

The best thing to do, if you or your loved one is concerned about the level of substance use after a brain injury, is seek professional help. Your case manager or physician will be able to refer you to the appropriate place for education, assistance, and treatment.

A supplemental strategy is to engage in a No Use policy for everyone in the household, thus reducing the opportunities for temptation. Education is also critical, particularly because individuals with brain injuries can struggle with making appropriate judgements as a result of their injury. Being informed about substance use and consequences beforehand can help during decision-making moments.

With the right support, substance use and abuse can be minimized in people with brain injuries.

>> Roger R Foisy is an experienced personal injury lawyer who has completed courses in Neurorehabilitation and Advanced Brain Injury Rehabilitation. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury at another party’s fault, contact us for immediate support and a free consultation.

*Roger R. Foisy has completed courses in Neurorehabilitation and Advanced Brain Injury Rehabilitation from Brock University. However, he is not a medical professional. The advice in this blog is not intended as a substitute for medical advice. 

Further Reading
The Human Brain and Traumatic Brain Injury [Video]
Causes and Effects of Acquired Brain Injury [Infographic]
What You Need to Know About Sports-related Injuries: Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries and Concussions



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