These days, when there are news reports about traumatic brain injury (TBI), it’s almost always related to football. And while one of the effects of TBI is an increased risk of using drugs and alcohol (especially for teens), this post isn’t really about that (but this post is).
This post is about the turf TBIs and drugs share—the developing teen brain.
The Developing Teen Brain—What Makes It Special Puts You at Risk
We’ve talked a lot about why drug use is so dangerous in your teen years—that it raises your risk for being addicted. (Here’s a great explanation.) The teen brain is still developing—growing. This makes it more flexible, more impressionable; so what you do now has a big impact on who you become as an adult. Like clay being molded before it hardens, like a computer being programmed, you are wiring your brain.
What Does the Developing Teen Brain Have To Do With TBIs?
It turns out that the developing brain is also at high risk for concussions, a type of TBI (referred to as mild TBI by doctors). Concussions can cause people to feel confused and depressed, to have a hard time remembering events around the time of the injury, to get headaches and seizures, and possibly to lose consciousness (pass out).
Children and teens, whose heads are large compared to their necks (like a bobblehead) and whose brains’ nerve fibers can more easily be torn apart, have a greater chance of getting a concussion. Many young people recover rapidly; but the younger a person is, the longer it can take to recover. Sometimes, youth have more serious effects compared to adults. It’s not just age that makes a difference—research from the past few years has shown that girls are at a greater risk for concussions and their brains need more time to recover than previously thought.
Each concussion is different. The slam of two heads (inside helmets or not) or a ball hitting your head can force your brain out of its protective fluid, slamming it against your skull and shaking it. When this happens, it can disrupt how your brain works—for a few seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years, or forever.
The nature of the injury, where it happens in the brain, the individual characteristics of the person’s brain, and environment all play a role. And those that get a concussion and go back to playing too soon are at risk of getting additional concussions more easily and possibly having much more severe outcomes. In rare cases, this can even cause death.
What Do TBIs Have To Do With Drugs?
TBIs pose higher risks for the developing brain because the brain is not as formed as it will be in a few years. This is also one of the reasons that using drugs as a teen increases the chances for addiction—the brain is simply more vulnerable while it’s developing.
March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. Make sure you take precautions to protect your brain. Seat belts and helmets are life saving. But if you do get a concussion—listen to your doctor and force yourself to rest for the full time prescribed, even when you feel ready to get back to the sport you love.
And remember, there’s no helmet for drugs—so protect your brain…inside and out.
Tell us in comments: Does this post help you think differently about your brain?