Traumatic Brain Injuries May Increase The Risk of Teen Substance Abuse

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Traumatic brain injuries have been linked to many psychiatric disorders and new findings have also found a connection between head trauma and risk of substance abuse in teenagers.

According to new findings published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, teens with a history of traumatic brain injury were significantly more likely to smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs such as meth, cocaine, and LSD than those who had not experienced a brain injury in their lifetime.

The findings also showed increased risk of using alcohol, sedatives, and ADHD medications that had not been prescribed to them.

“Overall, a teen with a history of traumatic brain injury is at least twice as likely as a classmate who hasn’t suffered a brain injury to drink alcohol, use cannabis or abuse other drugs,” Dr. Michael D. Cusimano, MD, PhD, and Neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital said in a press release. “On top of the other health consequences, substance abuse increases the odds of suffering an injury that could result in a traumatic brain injury. And using some of these substances may also impair recovery after injury. People should take every brain injury seriously because, as this research shows, the immediate and long-term effects can alter lives.”

The team of researchers assessed responses from 6,383 teens between ninth and 12th grades who participated in the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey.

For the study, the researchers defined a traumatic brain injury as being knocked out for at least five minutes or spending at least one night in the hospital because of the injury.

According to the findings, teens with a history of brain injuries were 3.8 times more likely to have used crystal meth or non-prescribed tranquilizers than those without a history of injury. They were also at least twice as likely to have taken ecstasy, non-prescribed opioid pain relievers, cocaine, LSD, and medications commonly prescribed for ADHD.

Teens who reported a history of TBI were also found to be 2.5 times more likely to have smoked cigarettes or participated in binge drinking. However, the study was unable to evaluate whether students with TBI had brain injuries and substance abuse problems before the injury or if they developed after their brain injury.

“These data show us that there are important links between adolescent traumatic brain injury and substance use,” Dr. Mann said. “While we can’t yet say which one causes the other, we know this combination of factors is something to watch because it can have a serious negative impact on young people as they develop.”

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