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Drugs & Health Blog

Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Use: A Closer Look

This blog post is archived and is no longer being updated. For the latest content, please visit the main Drugs & Health Blog page.
The NIDA Blog Team

It’s the big game. You’re running full speed toward the goal line. You have it in sight. You're focused. You're fast. This is it.

BAM! You’ve been hit. This is not it. The ball is gone; the moment is passed. And you're 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 brief loss of consciousness.

TBI and Drug Dependence: What's the Connection?

A recent study found that people who suffered a TBI before the age of 5, or between ages 16 and 25, have an increased risk for dependence on alcohol and drugs.

The verdict is still out on why this increased risk exists. 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 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 risk of using drugs, a TBI can also make using alcohol and drugs 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 messes up their 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, it can lead to a bad reaction, 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 getting another injury.

What's the Safest Way to Recover from a TBI?

After a TBI, most people are impatient to return to their normal activities. And it’s natural to be sad when you have to sit on the bench while your brain recovers. (This will probably take a longer time to recover than your body, which feels ready for the field.)

But this study tells us that, while you can wallow and feel crummy about your situation, it's important to do it without using alcohol and drugs. Drugs or alcohol don't just interfere with the recovery process, they 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 the blog post, “Traumatic Brain Injury, Addiction, and the Developing Teen Brain.”

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 If you aren't sure what to do or just want to talk to someone, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at

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
I've had several concussions during my life and have blacked out while drinking.... this article makes a lot of sense. I feel like my alcohol tolerance level has gone way down through the years. I can function great at work and have good memory but my downfall is alcohol consumption. I haven't learned my lesson.
If you need to talk
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: 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 would say no, no and no. My son tried it and he is obsessed with it. He will smoke every 20 minutes. I think it was the cause of his first seizure, and it was a big one. Now he lies steals. He is a full blown addict. His memory is getting worse too. It’s not worth it.
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.
He sounds like a good kid with a positive attitude . Weed isn't the worst just keep an eye on him and who he hangs out with.
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 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?
Alright pal, I had a tbi aswell, not a severe as yours but a few bleeds in my brain after a assault, I have the same nerve feelings, my left hands and foot are sometimes numb and get the odd headrush, I also feel anxious about the future but I also feel lucky to still be here, I am 22 and have smoked weed since I was 16, after the tbi I tried smoking for a few months it was okay some nights the others not it just didn't go well with the nerve damage , since I have been off it for a few months and feel great, I have also been off other stuff since I stopped the dope like E and Coke, when I took these it felt okay not like the weed with the nerves damage but I stopped all that stuff aswell because i realised it was stupid doing stuff like that after an injury.. I dont miss any of it just happy to be here and aiming to be healthy in the future
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.

I got A tbi from a at v... I would love to talk

We're sorry to hear this! Please contact NIDA's sister institute, the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, at, for more information.

Hey guys i need sum advice i hav epilepsy n i had a fall last year n knockd my hed when i cud sense a fit cuming anyway i didnt hav a mri becus my bf has xperiencr of dealin with epilepsy so my neurogist agreed ti start me on tablets first 20mg thn 50mg thy helpd for a while.but earler in the year i had follow up with him i was shakin but he was concernd this wasnt epilepsy i had urgent eeg which detectd no seizure activity but i now hav tremors insted n i hav smokd weed n coke n recently ive noticed my hed has bin hirtin mor n i fill sick alot espesilly aftr eatin.
My 44 he had a brain injury when he was 13 We took hospital to have idnoa they said he was ok. Years went by and noticed changes in his behavior didn't care any thing my daughter thought he was bi polar He got married was married for 18 years He smoked a lot of pot through the years very high strung His wife deal with everything and he liked tha He pot and start doing Vicodin that went on for couple years she left him an took his three boys now he doing speed and acts almost mentally retarded do Homeless living in his truck. I almost don't recognize him I don't know what to do he so paranoid
I have had a Tbi a few days ago and ive been putting ice to heal it and it got better and a bump went away. I did not go to the ER.
My boyfriend is 33.. In Nov.2016 he was trunked. They beat him in the head with brass knuckles... over 60 times they hit him...and then after word they kicked in his jaw with a steel toed boot and smashed his elbow with a hammer, as if that wasnt enough they then proceeded to hit him with a car 3 times. All of which he was being forced to have it hit him (literally) HEAD on ... previous to this he is a soccer player his whole life and has been hit in the head with the ball a few times... He was abused badly as a child and has been beaten for hours when he was just a little boy ... Hes been using drugs since he was a teenager and he seemed fine up until this whole trunking happened. Now he wont stop falling asleep... That worries me badly... I dont know who else to talk to...also, He has crashed numerous vehicles prior to and after that happened as well... Any ideas on what is causing the sleeping? Is it still reversable or will he be like this forever :(

We are sorry to hear this happened to your boyfriend. The best advice we can offer you is to talk to a trusted medical or health care professional. This sounds like a serious situation.

Can while being on drugs make you more likely to die from a blow to these then if you where not on drugs? And why?

Using drugs is dangerous, and so is using multiple drugs at the same time. For more information on the effects of specific drugs on the brain and body, check out our Drug Facts pages at

i was in a car accident 5 months ago and suffered a diffuse axonal brain injury. my recovery has been absolutely amazing, besides the fact that i am way worse at math and connecting some concepts in my head. i have not done any drugs since then, but i go to a lot of parties, where there is alcohol and weed. i’m going to a couple parties this weekend and i’m wondering if now is an okay time to start smoking and drinking a tiny bit here and there?

We’re sorry to hear about the car accident you were in that caused a brain injury. It sounds like you’re recovering well, and that you care about being healthy and taking care of your brain. Which is why we strongly recommend avoiding drinking or smoking. Plus, drinking alcohol and smoking tobacco (or other substances) is illegal when you’re 16. On top of that, your brain is still developing until your mid-twenties. Using drugs and alcohol can dramatically change the way your brain is programmed. Check out this video for more information:

i’m 16 years old btw
I had a brain hemorrhage and I don’t know if I’ll die from snorting a pill and you can’t stop me from doing it but I need to know if I’m gonna be okay or not and the wreck was about 5 months ago

We recommend you speak with a trusted health care professional as soon as possible to address your question.