Treating Traumatic Brain Injury and Addiction Concurrently

Last Updated: February 16, 2023

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Playing sports puts you at risk of ongoing small traumatic brain injuries.

Addiction frequently occurs in tandem with physical injuries or mental health challenges. People who experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) may develop a substance use disorder. Inversely, people with substance use disorders can end up with a TBI that changes the way that they need to approach addiction treatment. How are the two conditions connected?

Brain Injuries in the United States

A TBI occurs when you strike your head, your brain is exposed to pressure, or your skull is moved out of position. It can occur during sports, car accidents, fights that involve a head injury, blunt force trauma or other activities that can result in head injury. The traumatic event can cause direct damage to the brain and can also cause damage from swelling, bleeding and oxygen deprivation.

Out of the 1.7 million TBI that occur every year in the United States, 80 percent of people are treated and then released. Many other people likely experience injury but do not report it. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), TBI can cause a wide range of cognitive and behavioral consequences that interfere with a person’s ability to adhere to an addiction treatment protocol.

Substance Misuse Can Lead to Brain Trauma

Using alcohol and drugs can damage your body directly, but it also has indirect effects. These effects include car accidents and falls, both of which can lead to brain trauma. Those who are hospitalized for a TBI are much more likely than the general population to have used drugs and alcohol prior to the injury.

Brain Trauma Can Change Patterns of Substance Use

According to Brainline, while there is often a period of time right after a head injury when alcohol or drug use stops, some studies of individuals with TBI have found that alcohol use worsens in the period of two to five years after the injury.

Brain trauma can lead to pain. Recurring headaches from a concussion could lead to a doctor prescribing drugs that could begin a person down a path that could lead to addiction.

At the same time, trauma can lead to challenges with impulse control because the frontal lobe is damaged. With these challenges come trouble regulating your use of what feels good to your body. Drug misuse can become a problem because it is hard to resist the temptation of drugs that alleviate discomfort, even if you realize that the drugs may cause problems later in life.

While many people with a substance use disorder and TBI had a substance use disorder prior to the injury, Brainline states that some studies indicated that between 10 and 20 percent of people with TBI develop a substance use disorder after their injury.

There are ways to stop this trend. Living in supportive housing situations that regulate drug and alcohol use or receiving addiction treatment that provides strategies for avoiding alcohol and drugs in the future can both help you reduce your chances of continuing or worsening your substance use disorder.

Treating Co-Occurring Disorders

It is important to treat co-occurring disorders, like a TBI or depression, at the same time as you receive treatment for addiction. This allows you to have the best opportunity for success in your addiction treatment. For instance, a brain injury that impacts your memory could mean that you require different strategies to avoid drinking or misusing other substances. Treatment should always occur with a full understanding of how your brain and the rest of your body are working right now, to optimize your ability to succeed in recovery.

Are you seeking addiction treatment programs in Ohio? Contact The Recovery Village Columbus to talk about admission options today.

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