Drugs & Health Blog

Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Use—A Closer Look

The NIDA Blog Team

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.

For example:

  • 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.

Brain Science
Comments posted to the Drugs & Health Blog are from the general public and may contain inaccurate information. They do not represent the views of NIDA or any other federal government entity.


they will try to themself
I had a bad car wreck in 2010 I was in a comma for a month I suffered tbi tore off leg shatter right elbow and broke the only leg I had left I have been having trouble with substance abuse and its very hard for me to make good decisions im at my lowest ever I have only seen the neurologists twice since my accident. He told me I still have two bad spots on my brain and I have bad headaches I was just hoping someone could give me some advice on substance abuse and my tbi!!! I really need it

Hi Brandon, you can get information about drug abuse treatment programs at https://findtreatment.samhsa.gov/. If you aren't sure what to do or just want to talk to someone, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.

Hey I got a tbi I went through drugs and stuff in still improving almost 4 years after want help I'm here for ya brother what's going on
About 35 years of drug abuse and multiple head injuries Through The Years about 7 have much difficulty in balance thinking Reading Writing comprehension long term memory pretty good short-term horrible very impulsive all the time like I've lost my brakes and now I'm going to lose my mind so I'm going to treatment and I pray I'll get it back how much do you think you can get back after quitting thank God for Dragon for I would not be able to read this comment. If it helps people out there don't do drugs and don't get hit in the head multiple times I'm scared these days and wonder how many days I have that can comprehend what's going on real or not real
My son was the victim of an assault at 14 yes old. Was given Vicodin after being knocked unconscious and his jaw was kicked in and broken. He became an addict and died 32 months ago. I correlate his addiction to this assault.
Thank you for sharing this informative post for TBI. It gives very good understanding.
This is very informative and when play sports now, I will protect my head even more, even though I don't use drugs
I did drugs twice after I got a severe brain injury I do everything very strict I don't do anything lots of sleep omega and work with specialists therapists I do whatever I can do recover the best I can am I in real danger I'm so terrified I don't wanna lose my mind

Hi brandon, according to the CDC, "most people with a concussion recover quickly and fully." (Read more here: http://www.cdc.gov/headsup/basics/concussion_recovery.html) If you have any concerns, however, you should talk with your doctor.

I didn't have a concussion I had a severe traumatic brain Injury
so can I smoke marijuana yes or no after a tbi

We cannot speculate how one person with a TBI will react to marijuana, except to say why take a chance? You have enough to deal with. You should ask your health care provider how you can move forward through life in the healthiest possible way.

I suffered a TBI from a car accident at 17. I started using marijuana after and my brain has not recovered all the way. I am now 24 and still have memory and anger control problems. Your brain needs to be clear of everything to heal correctly.
Yeah i seem to still be recovering good cause i did everything strict workes out since day 1 healthy eating and everything tons of therapy pshchologists my memory and everything is still improving greatly its been over a year now and i dont drink ur anything just hoping ut doesnt get worse i meditate and do alot for my recovery and myself
Yeah i seem to still be recovering good cause i did everything strict workes out since day 1 healthy eating and everything tons of therapy pshchologists my memory and everything is still improving greatly its been over a year now and i dont drink ur anything just hoping ut doesnt get worse i meditate and do alot for my recovery and myself. But i did coke just over a year after then again just over 2 years after and thats it
I have a son 17. He sustained a tbi in 2007 He since has recovered sooo much. Things still linger he has right side paralysis of his hip leg and foot. Also impulsiveness. That has improved greatly thru the yrd, but still some struggles. Also decision making is very altered.. I keep a very tight leash because of this He doesn't connect to consequences to a bad decisions. About a yr ago at 16 he started experimenting with smoking marijuana. I have had an open relationship with him in discussing the dangers and consequences of smoking. Also councling. He is now 17 in 1/2 now he is smoking every chance he gets, including taking money from me his brothers and dad. I've grounded him! I am at a loss in what to do?!?! I am petrified of what can happen and it getting worse! He for the most part a great kid!! He does well in school, he is on an IEP . That's good.. he's is a tech school he is taking carpentry, doing well at that. It home life that's a problem. I recently signed him at the gym, trying to give him a place to go and it's positive... he has some other boys he works out with.. that's great. He really wants to smoke he likes it! And will do what he has to to get it.. I'm afraid that will get worse too. Also now driving in a car, not him other teens smoking... just an all around not good situation.. I'm trying to ride the waves praying it will pass.. idk though.
I'd get him off of that especially if it's this early in his recovery less than a year and his brain is still developing. Like now I'm very spiritual I do everything I can meditation very important for him to do I work with some amazing theta meditation specialists and the kind of meditation I do heals the brain and body and creates new brain cells a couple months in I've had horrible pain all over my body i have overcome 80 percent of this I barely have pains anymore and I still notice my brain improving I'm over 3 years it's never to late. I don't watch violent movies I'm always meditating hanging out with positive good people and I read alot of deep books but I learned fast I needed to change. People are seeing my recovery even the hospital and they are so amazed you need to get him off that path don't force him or tell him he has to change cause telling people what to do won't work people don't like to be told what to do try hooking him up with counseling and some theta meditation specialists it'll change his life but don't force it I wish you all the best
Thank you for your reply! That's great you found great positive therapy. My son is 17. He is 8 yrs out from is TBI.. just recently he has changed, the way I explain is, he is a 17 year old teenager with a brain injury.. the significant part of his brain that suffered the most damage is his frontal lobe, that control all these behaviors... so for him its like a double whammy.. I do have him in counseling, the other problem I run into, is the therapists don't have any brain injury back ground. The guy he sees is awesome though, he works strictly with boys lots of teen boys.. I also recently signed him up for the gym, he likes that! But still not helping with him smoking and pulling away from me and his father.. I will look into the meditation.. maybe even for myself.. lol
My husband was assaulted in Oct 2015. He has TBI and a ex herion user. He is really aggressive and angry. He is unable to talk. Currently he is in rehab for therapy now he is refusing. He refusing care ,medication and is going to be discharged from there. I don't know what to do .I don't have alot of options. I need help.

Hi Noemi, please reach out to people around you for help and support. That is a lot to deal with! You can also contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They help people work through a lot of situations, not just suicide prevention. The rehab facility or a social services organization in your area may also be able to connect you with a social worker or other resources who can help.

I had a TBI at 15 years old from a skateboarding accident. I went into a seizure after suffering a skull fracture, I started bleeding from the ears was rushed to the hospital. They removed blood clots and removed a piece of my skull for 2 months to let my brain swell. In that time I smoked weed, and since my second surgery where my skull was put back in I have drank and tried various drugs. Everyday I have odd nerve feelings that the doctors said would be normal and I have occasional head rushes. I have performed fine in school since my recovery and have been able to hang out with friends just as before. I often have anxiety about my future and some of the nerve feelings I have can anyone relate or offer advice?
I had a car crash in December 2015 and I have 3 brain bleeds what would happen if I took cocaine
We don't recommend that anyone takes cocaine. If you have specific questions about your condition, please talk to your doctor.
hello there, I've suffered from a brain injury from an ATV accident on July 11th 2015. I wasn't the driver, I was a passenger, I was wondering since I'm still in my recovery stage, just over a year since my accident, would Marijuana be okay to try?

Hi Jake, we cannot speculate how one person with a TBI will react to marijuana, except to say why take a chance? You have enough to deal with. You should ask your health care provider how you can move forward through life in the healthiest possible way.

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