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Living with an Invisible Disability


After an accident, a head injury is easy to spot due to visible wounds. A shaved head with a row of stitches are the very noticeable signs of a head injury. But after the wounds heal and hair covers the scars, sometimes there are no visible signs of a brain injury. This is why a brain injury (TBI) is the “invisible disability.”

Each brain injury is unique and has different long-term effects, but there are some common symptoms of TBI:

  • Physical changes – frequent headaches, fatigue, ringing in the ears, blurred or double vision, and balance disorders.
  • Cognitive changes – short-term memory loss, slowness in thinking and response, difficulty learning new tasks, trouble making decisions, frequently getting lost, inability to concentrate, and socially inappropriate behavior.
  • Emotional changes – becoming more irritable or angry, crying easily and often, depression, becoming overwhelmed, and difficulty sleeping.

Unfortunately, without an outward sign of a disability, a person’s brain injury may be seen simply as a bad personality.

Approximately 3.1 million people need help with everyday living due to traumatic brain injuries. For some TBI survivors experience long-term physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral complications.

Brain Injury and Addiction

If you have a brain injury, you are twice as likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. There are several reasons for 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.

Abusing alcohol and drugs is very harmful for someone recovering from a brain injury. Substance abuse slows the healing process, sometimes limiting the brain’s full recovery potential.

Finding the Right Treatment Program

If you are seeking addiction treatment, look for a program that can adapt to your needs. Ask if the program has experience working with individuals living with brain injuries. Ask if any counselors are Certified Brain Injury Specialists (CBIS). And remember, you are your own advocate. Let people know about your brain injury so they can find appropriate ways to assist you.

Sources: Brain Injury Association of America, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention