When Dr. Gabor Mate began investigating medical literature to prove that addictions develop following a traumatic brain injury (TBI) he made a startling discovery: the exact opposite is true. Brain injuries tend to develop in greater frequency among those who are already predisposed to the symptoms of addiction.
“Brain injuries happen mostly to young men and they tend to have a history of substance abuse. When you look at the literature you’ll find drug use tends to predate the injury,” said Dr. Mate.
Some people who end up with traumatic brain injuries have pre-existing addictions. The implication is that preventative measures should be taken to help mitigate the risk of TBI for individuals predisposed to a greater risk of harm.
“There’s a lot more we can do to prevent brain injuries by looking at the kids who are at risk because of family circumstances, learning disabilities, behavioral manifestations, emotional dysfunction. This can be intervened in a positive way if we had a preventive system in place,” Said Gabor Mate.
Mate is concerned that those children with a predilection for risky behavior are either not identified soon enough, or not given the necessary amount of preventative treatment. Instead, they are simply informed that “drugs are bad.” However, this is rarely enough.
Mate drew a correlation between the high percentage of U.S. incarcerated inmates with traumatic brain injuries and the fact that people who have suffered childhood abuse and trauma make up almost the entirety of the population of incarcerated individuals. A 2006 Australian study showed that 82% of prisoners interviewed had suffered from some form of TBI. Other U.S. studies reveal that incarceration rates of brain injured people range from 78-86%.
Mate concludes that the federal government’s plan to increase penalties for drug possession is a step in the wrong direction.
“The government’s drive is to build more prisons. We’re jailing people who were traumatized as children instead of providing rehabilitation,” said Mate.
Though many prisoners with traumatic brain injuries might appear unaffected at first, upon closer inspection they often reveal signs of TBI including difficulties with speech, cognitive disabilities and behavioral problems. Ultimately many of these prisoners go unidentified and are not afforded the treatment that they need for their injuries.
If some of the resources being funneled into building prisons could be devoted to TBI treatment and prevention, there might be less of a need for prisons to begin with.