Drinking Alcohol after Brain injury – Really? Why Not?

Drinking Alcohol After Brain Injury

November 2017

Holidays are often a time of parties with alcohol

For many, it’s the season to celebrate with alcohol, to party with the holidays coming! How often have you heard that line – or is it an excuse? But you may have also heard comments from friends and family such as,

“You get angry when you drink.”

“I don’t like how you act when you’ve been drinking.”

“You turn into a different person when you drink.”

Or simply…

“Please don’t drink.”

Drinking alcohol after a brain injury – whether it’s beer, wine, mixed drinks, or hard liquor – often raises questions, comments or accusations along the lines of “Is that wise?” or “Should you be doing that?”

Responses often made are, “It’s calms my nerves.” Or “It helps me fall asleep.” Or It’s not a problem for me.” Or “Don’t make such a big deal out of it.” Or “I can handle it.” Sound familiar?

Talking about alcohol is too often a “hot” topic leading to arguments with name calling and accusations on one side that are met with denials and resistance by the other person. The choice may turn into arguing about it or avoiding talking about it.  Neither approach helps.

Statistics tell the real story.

  • Up to 2/3 of people with TBI have a history of alcohol abuse or risky drinking.Injuries can occur when people drink too much alcohol

    Injuries can occur when people drink too much alcohol

  • Between 1/3 to ½ of people with TBI were injured while drunk.
  • After a TBI, about half of survivors stop drinking or cut way back.

There are consequences for survivors – and for their families. Research finds that after a brain injury, drinking alcohol:

  • Reduces brain injury recovery
  • Increases changes of re-injury
  • Magnifies cognitive impairments, and
  • Puts the person at risk for emotional problems such as depression.
  • For these reasons, abstinence or not drinking, is recommend or, “No use is the best use.” Not drinking is one way to give the brain a chance to heal.
  • Alcohol and brain injury can have wide ranging effects including:


  • A traumatic brain injury increases the risk for developing seizures.
  • Alcohol lowers the seizure threshold and may trigger seizures.
  • Not drinking can reduce the risk of developing post-traumatic seizures.

Another Brain Injury

  • TBI survivors are 3 to 8 times at higher risk for another brain injury.

Mental Functioning


  • affects memory, mental speed, balance, and thinking.
  • may affect survivors more than it did before their injury.

    Alcohol negatively affects your mood

  • magnifies negative effects of brain injury
  • can have negative mental effects over days to weeks even after drinking stops.


  • Is a depressant
  • Increases risks of depression after brain injury.
  • Reduces effectiveness of anti-depressant medications.



  • Reduces testosterone production in men
  • Reduces sexual desire in men and women
  • Reduces sexual performance in men
  • Reduces sexual satisfaction in both men and women.


As if all this isn’t enough, consider the potential interaction between alcohol and other drugs and prescription meds.

Don’t mix alcohol and meds

Don’t mix alcohol and pills


  • Can diminish or multiply effects of some medications, increasing risks of overdose and death.


We can only give you the facts and information about alcohol and brain injury. The choice is yours.

This newsletter features excerpts by Dr. Charles Bombardier from the chapter on “Alcohol and Other Drug Use after Brain Injury.”  If you’d like to explore this topic more, you will find it in the workbook

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5 responses to “Drinking Alcohol after Brain injury – Really? Why Not?”

  1. Leon Edward says:

    Advice is listen to this article. .. I’ve tried several ways, drinking a little, lot and abstinance. I know the effects are magnified . Of course each person’s affected differently but just a drink or two would seriously affect , worsening detrimental effects as drop foot and spasticity, of course speech and alertness. I am lucky I made it home sometimes even after only a couple as effects were so worse ,

    finally after 35 years I years I quit drinking and have my mind back again.
    My injury was from a close gunshot to the head. And after being in a coma left with Hemiparesis , footdrop, spasticity and I beg of anyone with this to listen to the writer and just stay away from alcohol after a brain injury.

  2. Pam says:

    I enjoy a glass of white wine with dinner a few times a week. I started doing that after my divorce. After an acquired brain injury and eventual return to control of some degree of normalcy (loss of panic), I began to enjoy my wine with dinner again. I enjoy my dinner a bit more. I will not drive after that one drink and found that standing on a small stool made me too uncomfortable to decorate the Christmas tree.

  3. Christopher edwards says:

    Personally could agree anymore with these facts!!! After being over the legal limit driving home went of the road with the intentions to take my life and wreak worse than I did. Sought out help in the VA medical center of Minneapolis. For severe depression in two substance abuse recovery programs and smart recovery to better my life. And accepting a relationship with the good lord above.

  4. Mary Anne Locantro says:

    I no longer drive a car so I ride a tricycle.

  5. Mary Anne Locantro says:

    I am 56 years old now, unmarried and I used to be a hard working Paralegal. In June 2009, I had Herpes Simplex Encephalitis and 3 cm of my brain was removed. I was in a Coma for 19 days, when I woke up, I did not recognize my Parents, Sisters nor did I remember I had 4 German Shepherd Mix Dogs at home that were, thankfully, cared for by my elderly friend. I couldn’t walk, talk or think and kept having seizures. I literally wanted to DIE!!! I did NOT drink alcohol throughout my long and horrible struggle. In April, 2013, I finally had brain surgery where they fixed my brain and I can THINK again. I am on Disability and continue to go back to school to relearn everything. I have started to drink a bit of Kahlua once a day but I no longer go out with friends to bars.

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