Important Facts You Should Know About Traumatic Brain Injury and Alcohol Use


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.

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