Between 30-50% of all traumatic brain injuries are linked to alcohol use, and estimated suggest up to two-thirds of individuals who experience TBI have a history of alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, this also means a large number of those individuals continue drinking after their injury, which can be incredibly detrimental for the recovery process.
After a traumatic brain injury, the brain is highly sensitive. That means it is also more sensitive to alcohol and drinking again puts you at a considerably higher risk of re-injuring yourself. Drinking also increases the odds of experiencing emotional problems related to TBI such as depression and experiencing a prolonged or poor recovery.
Along with these issues, Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center – a national center devoted to educating the public about TBI, spinal cord injury, and burn injuries –shared several other important facts related to alcohol use and brain injury:
Alcohol and Brain Injury Recovery
- Recovery from brain injury continues for much longer than we used to think possible. Many people notice improvements for many years after injury.
- Alcohol slows down or stops brain injury recovery.
- Not drinking is one way to give the brain the best chance to heal.
- People’s lives often continue to improve many years after brain injury. Not drinking will increase the chance of improvement.
Alcohol, Brain Injury and Seizures
- Traumatic brain injury puts survivors at risk for developing seizures (epilepsy).
- Alcohol lowers the seizure threshold and may trigger seizures.
- Not drinking can reduce the risk of developing seizures.
Alcohol and the Risk of Having Another Brain Injury
- After a brain injury, survivors are at higher risk (3 to 8 times higher) of having another brain injury.
- Drinking alcohol puts survivors at an even higher risk of having a second brain injury. This may be because both brain injury and alcohol can affect coordination and balance.
- Not drinking can reduce the risk of having another brain injury.
Alcohol and Mental Functioning
- Alcohol and brain injury have similar negative effects on mental abilities like memory and thinking flexibility.
- Alcohol magnifies some of the cognitive problems caused by brain injury.
- Alcohol may affect brain injury survivors more than it did before their injury.
- The negative mental effects of alcohol can last from days to weeks after drinking stops.
- Not drinking is one way to keep your mental abilities at their best and stay sharp and focused.
Alcohol and Mood
- Depression is about 8 times more common in the first year after TBI than in the general population.
- Alcohol is a “depressant” drug, and using alcohol can cause or worsen depression.
- Alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications. People who are taking antidepressants should not drink alcohol.
- One way to improve problems with sadness or depression after TBI is to stop or cut down on the use of alcohol.