Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Use—A Closer Look
It’s the big game. You’re running full speed toward the goal line. You have it in sight. You are focused. You are fast. This is it. BAM! You’ve been hit. This is not it. The ball is gone. The moment is passed. And you are on your back. Nothing is broken. But your brain has been rattled. That hit has led to a traumatic brain injury (TBI).
TBI happens when a bump, blow, jolt, or other head injury causes damage to the brain. Every brain injury, even a concussion, is a TBI. A concussion happens when the brain bumps the skull. Usually a concussion causes a change in how the brain works or a short loss of consciousness.
So, why are we talking about TBI on a blog about drugs? Because a recent study reports that people who suffered a TBI before the age of 5 or between ages 16 and 25 were at an increased risk for dependence on alcohol and drugs.
What Does TBI Have To Do With Drug Dependence?
The verdict is still out on that. What we do know is that our brains continue to grow and develop into our late teens and early 20s. This is a time when our brains are, frankly, more vulnerable physically—not to just having a TBI in the first place, but to the consequences of TBI, including an increased risk for drug problems.
What Can Happen When You Use Drugs After a TBI?
Beyond just increasing the use of drugs, a TBI can also make alcohol and drug use more harmful.
- After a TBI, teens may feel the effects of alcohol and drugs more quickly than before the injury. Some teens may find just a small amount of alcohol or drugs impairs judgment and balance.
- People with TBI may have difficulty thinking, balancing, remembering, and concentrating. Using marijuana, alcohol, and other drugs can make these problems worse.
- Some teens may need to take prescription medications for their injury. When a person mixes prescription medications with drugs or alcohol, a bad reaction can occur, which sometimes can be deadly.
- People under the influence of drugs or alcohol don't always make good choices, and those choices increase their risk for another injury.
After a TBI, most people can't wait to recover and return to their normal activities. And it’s not unreasonable to be sad when you have to sit on the bench while your brain recovers (because it may likely take longer than your body, which feels ready for the field). But what this study tells us is that, while you are free to wallow and feel crummy about your situation, do so without using alcohol and drugs. Drug or alcohol use not only interferes with the recovery process, it can set you up for drug problems—something no athlete wants.
Want to learn more about head injuries and how to prevent them? Check out Heads Up: Concussion for some great tips and information.
Update: Read more about traumatic brain injuries and the developing teen brain in this post.