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Brain Injury and Substance Abuse

Brain Injury and Substance Abuse – What’s the Connection?

By Annie Pixley

According to the Office on Disability, one out of two people with a brain injury has some sort of substance abuse. In contrast, the substance abuse rate among the general population is one in ten. Several factors contribute to this increased risk, including medicine and health problems, enabling by family and friends, an inability to identify potential problems and a lack of appropriate prevention and treatment services.

Among the many obstacles people recovering from a brain injury encounter are depression, isolation and boredom. Some survivors trying to cope with these myriad feelings turn to alcohol or drugs. Even casual use of these substances can have negative consequences for people recovering from and living with brain injuries.

The adverse effects alcohol and drugs have on a healing mind can be devastating to the quality of life for the brain injury survivor. The brain has to re-learn skills and this process can be inhibited by the consumption of alcohol and drugs, slowing the recovery.

People who have sustained one brain injury are more likely to sustain another.  Some traumatic brain injuries cause problems with balance, coordination, vision and judgment, all of which can be compounded with substance use. It is important to remember that no matter how much alcohol or drugs a person was able to use before, they can tolerate less after an injury. This is because the brain is more sensitive to alcohol and other drugs after a brain injury.

Seeking treatment for substance abuse is of the utmost importance. Too often, substance abuse treatment is not accessible to people living with a brain injury because of learning barriers caused by the injury. Treatment centers not familiar with brain injuries may misinterpret certain behaviors, classifying them as intentionally disruptive or resistant to treatment. It is essential for a person recovering from a brain injury to work with a counselor who understands the common behavioral challenges associated with brain injuries. 


Duane Reynolds, LSW, LADC, BCCR – The Challenge magazine, Fall 2010, pg. 36

Recommended Reading: 

Understanding Everybody’s Behavior After Brain Injury – Don’t “Don’t”

By Harvey Jacobs, Ph.D.

This innovative and comprehensive book helps you understand the intricate factors that cause behavior after brain injury. It shows how a person’s behavior is affected by other events and circumstances as much as the actual injury. It helps the many people, places and resources that are involved with the individual be more responsive and effective. It is ideal for training and staff development as well as for case consultation, service planning and program development.
Substance Abuse After Brain Injury

By John Corrigan, Ph.D. and Roberta DePompei, Ph.D. 

Brain injury tip card discusses risks of alcohol and drug use after head injury in adolescents and adults. Identifies signs of substance abuse and prevention.