Are Traumatic Brain Injuries and Substance Abuse Linked?

Content medically reviewed by Vicky Magobet, PMHNP-BC, on September 24, 2021.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, 61,000 people died in 2019 from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). Some people may know TBIs as "concussions" or simply "brain injuries." Although many people recover from TBIs, these injuries can lead to other health issues for some. One side effect that often gets ignored is addiction, most commonly to alcohol.

What Is a Traumatic Brain Injury?

A TBI occurs when the brain is subjected to blunt or penetrating head trauma. Some of the most common causes of TBIs are:

  • Car accidents.
  • Gunshot wounds.
  • Falling.
  • Falling debris.
  • Contact sports such as football or rugby.

Anyone can fall victim to a TBI, but it most commonly occurs in males aged 15-19 or 75 and older. TBI levels can range from minor to life-threatening. If the TBI is minor, someone may not even realize they've experienced one. Most TBIs go unnoticed and untreated. Regardless of whether you know you've sustained brain trauma, TBIs can cause a range of long-term effects, including:

  • Cognitive impairment.
  • Sensory processing problems.
  • Difficulty communicating.
  • Behavioral issues and impulsivity.
  • Mental disorders like anxiety, depression, PTSD and personality disorders.

What Are the Links Between TBI and Addiction?

Unfortunately, TBIs and substance abuse have a deeply entangled relationship. Those facing any form of substance abuse have an increased risk of TBI due to impaired senses. Additionally, after a TBI, many people self-medicate with alcohol or other drugs to treat painful symptoms.

Alcohol is the most commonly misused substance linked to TBIs. Nearly three-quarters of people hospitalized for a TBI have alcohol in their system, and half were intoxicated when the TBI-inducing incident occurred.

Although using alcohol or drugs is somewhat common among TBI victims, substance abuse negatively impacts the healing process. Firstly, this occurs because a TBI can affect how potent substances' effects are. Second, research also shows misusing substances can exacerbate any effects of a TBI instead of soothing them, as many people believe.

You have many options for recovering from alcohol addiction caused by a TBI. Medications for TBI such as antidepressants and diuretics may help lessen symptoms, but you will also likely need the help of personnel dedicated to supporting you through recovery.

Diamond House Detox Can Help You Recover

If you or someone close to you are struggling with a TBI-related addiction, Diamond House Detox is prepared to help you move through your recovery journey. Contact our 24-hour admission service now to start today.