News & Events

Exploring the Connection Between Brain Injury and Substance Abuse

One out of two people living with a brain injury suffers from some form of substance abuse issue, according to the Office on Disability. This rate is five times higher than the general population. Several factors contribute to this increased risk, including medicine and health problems, enabling by family and friends, an inability to identify potential problems, and a lack of appropriate prevention and treatment services.

After sustaining a brain injury, many people experience devasting physical, emotional, and behavioral changes. People with brain injuries often struggle with depression, poor impulse control, and short-term memory problems, which are just a few of the reasons for the increased incidence of substance abuse among this population. Too often, people with brain injuries are not successful in conventional drug and alcohol treatment programs which do not accommodate their unique learning styles.

The adverse effects alcohol and drugs have on a healing mind can be devastating to the quality of life for a person in recovery. After an injury, the brain has to re-learn skills by discovering new ways to transmit information. The brain does this by making new connections between neurons to compensate for the part of the brain that was damaged. Using alcohol and drugs after a brain injury slows recovery by interfering with the new connections between neurons. Inhibiting the brain’s ability to heal and adapt to life after an injury prolongs and frustrates the healing process.

People who have sustained one brain injury are three times more likely to suffer a second injury. Some brain injuries cause problems with balance, coordination, vision and judgment. These problems will increase with alcohol and drug use. It is important to remember that no matter how much alcohol or other drugs a person was able to use before, it is always less after an injury. This is because the brain is more sensitive to alcohol and other drugs after an injury. In addition, with each brain injury it takes less force to cause greater harm.

It is obvious to mention that brain injury does damage to your brain, as does alcohol and drug abuse. But it is important to mention that research has shown when brain injury and substance abuse are combined, the effect on the brain is worse than either one has alone.

It is important for a person with a brain injury who is seeking help for substance abuse to locate a program that has experience in treating people with brain injuries. Too often, substance abuse treatment is not accessible to people living with a brain injury because of learning barriers caused by the injury. Treatment centers that are not familiar with brain injuries may interpret certain behaviors as intentionally disruptive or as resistance to treatment. Working with a counselor who understands the common behaviors associated with brain injury is essential for a person trying to recover from addiction.

Substance Abuse Treatment

If you or someone you know is living with a brain injury or other cognitive disabilities and struggling with substance abuse, treatment may help. Since 1990, Vinland has been helping people with cognitive disabilities address their chemical health issues. With a specialized chemical health program for people with brain injuries and other cognitive disabilities, Vinland offers individualized programming that empowers people to overcome multiple barriers to independence.