Are Traumatic Brain Injuries and Substance Abuse Linked?

Updated July 18, 2023

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, 69,473 people died in 2023 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.

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

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Diamond House Detox
Vicky is a board certified Family Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. She began her nursing career in healthcare by working in the intensive care unit, and then an inpatient psychiatric hospital. After realizing the mental health needs of both the patients and the families she served, she became a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. Throughout her experience working with clients, she has developed a passion for those with dual diagnoses and specializes in helping individuals recognize the issues driving their substance use. This recognition has been crucial to the individual’s success in treatment. Vicky opened Diamond House Detox so that she can address these issues early on in a therapeutic environment to allow clients to transition to the next level in their recovery.
Vicky Magobet