The use of substances plays a large part in many traumatic brain injuries, research shows, and alcohol abuse is probably involved with more TBI’s than any other substance. Many brain injuries occur in relation to automobile crashes or accidents involving heavy equipment by someone under the influence of alcohol.
Young males are the most likely group to suffer from alcohol-related TBI. A study at Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio showed that over 60% of TBI patients studied had prior histories of drug and alcohol abuse. When individuals with serious substance abuse problems are hospitalized for their brain injuries, their problems are compounded because they are dealing with a brain injury and the physical and emotional effects of detoxifying from alcohol and/or drugs.
The presence of alcohol and drugs in a patient’s system can complicate diagnosis for physicians since the symptoms of overdose are similar to those associated with TBI (lethargy, confusion, respiratory depression, and disorientation). Sometimes TBI is overlooked altogether, which can lead to further complications down the road.
Sometimes drug and alcohol abuse is increased after the patient is released from the hospital where he was treated for the TBI. Difficulty adjusting to the physical and emotional effects of the brain injury, inability to work, and memory and cognitive deficits are all frustrating for the brain-injured patient, so he or she may indulge in drugs and alcohol to numb themselves from the pain of their injury. They may feel hopeless and think it does not matter if they abuse drugs and alcohol.
Since families are usually the primary caretakers of brain injury victims, they are often the first to recognize substance abuse problems in their loved one. Family members can inform healthcare professionals of these issues and encourage the patient to seek some sort of help or rehabilitation. Providing a supportive drug-free atmosphere is crucial in their recovery, and it is important that family members, in addition to the one who is using, seek support to cope with the ravages of drug and/or alcohol abuse.