Teens with Head Trauma Far More Likely to Use Drugs, Alcohol

Teens who have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are two to four times more likely to use drugs or alcohol, compared with teens with no history of TBI, according to new research published in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

“Overall, a teen with a history of TBI 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,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, co-principal investigator of the study and a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, Canada.

“But when you look at specific drugs, those rates are often higher.”

According to the findings, in the past 12 months, teens with a history of TBI said they were:

  • 3.8 times more likely to have used crystal meth;
  • 3.8 times more likely to have used non-prescribed tranquilizers or sedatives;
  • 2.8 times more likely to have used Ecstasy;
  • 2.7 times more likely to have used non-prescribed opioid pain relievers;
  • 2.6 times more likely to have used hallucinogens;
  • 2.5 times more likely to have used cocaine;
  • 2.5 times more likely to have used LSD;
  • 2.1 times more likely to have used non-prescribed ADHD drugs.

“On top of the other health consequences, substance abuse increases the odds of suffering an injury that could result in a TBI,” said Cusimano, a researcher with the Keenan Research Centre for Biomedical Science. “And using some of these substances may also impair recovery after injury.”

Teens with a self-reported history of TBI also reported they were 2.5 times more likely to have smoked one or more cigarettes each day during the last 12 months and were nearly twice as likely to binge drink (five or more drinks in one sitting) during the last four weeks.

A TBI is defined as any hit or blow to the head that results in being knocked out for at least five minutes or spending at least one night in the hospital due to head trauma symptoms. Some of these brain injuries could have been also called concussions, which are mild to moderate forms of TBI.

“Some people think of concussions as a less alarming injury than a mild TBI but this is wrong,” said Cusimano. “Every concussion is a TBI. People should take every brain injury seriously because, as this research shows, the immediate and long-term effects can alter lives.”

Researchers observed data on reported substance use among 6,383 Ontario students in ninth through 12th grade. Data included the substance use habits and history of TBIs among students but did not show whether substance use or brain injury came first.

“These data show us that there are important links between adolescent TBI and substance use,” said Robert Mann, Ph.D., co-principal investigator of the study, senior scientist at CAMH and director of the OSDUHS.

“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.”

Mann added that the relationship between TBI and substance use is concerning and calls for greater focus on prevention. “In terms of our research, the next step is to get a better understanding of the direction of these behaviors and to hopefully pinpoint when and how this relationship starts.”

Source:  St. Michael’s Hospital

Teenager buying drugs photo by shutterstock.