Pictured above: Angela Haas, author of blog post

You have likely dealt with substance abuse before, whether it’s in your family, a friend of a friend, or someone you are working with now. If so, you know that substance abuse has an effect on everyone, but that effect is especially dangerous for those who have suffered a traumatic brain injury.

For brain injury survivors, alcohol and drugs can increase the likelihood of seizures, and can also have dangerous interactions with individuals’ prescribed medications. In addition, alcohol and drugs affect our brains differently, and can have a much more powerful effect on someone with a brain injury.

Just as importantly, alcohol and drug use may increase the likelihood of re-injury, as survivors under the influence are more likely to engage in behaviors such as impaired driving, or suffer difficulties with balance or impulsive decision making.

Some of the most bothersome cognitive impacts of TBI include issues with decision-making (mentioned above), as well as problem solving, short-term memory, low inhibition, and decreased awareness. Alcohol and drugs can exacerbate all of these symptoms, unquestionably impacting recovery -- which is why complete abstinence from alcohol and drugs is the healthiest and safest choice to aid in brain injury recovery and sustainability.

Risk Factors for Addiction

  • Alcohol/Drug use or dependence prior to obtaining their brain injury
  • History of mood disorders
  • Current depressive disorder or symptoms of depression
  • Addiction to tobacco
  • Family history of addiction
  • Poor social skills
  • Poverty
  • Early use in adolescence
  • Stress at home
  • Unhelpful support group or lack of natural supports
  • Lack of health insurance or access to health care

Questions to ask if you fear that you or someone you love may have an addiction and need support

  • Do they go through withdrawals if/when they stop using?
  • Do they have to take larger amounts or over a longer time period than intended?
  • Has their use resulted in a failure to fulfill major obligations at work, school, or home?
  • Have they continued to use despite continuous problems with using?
  • Have they made unsuccessful attempts to cut down?
  • Do they have cravings, or a strong desire to use?
  • Have they given up important social, occupational, or recreational activities because of use?
  • Do they continue to use in situations where it is physically hazardous?
  • Do they continue to use despite knowledge of having physical/psychological dependence?
  • Do they spend a great deal of their time obtaining, using, or recovering from its effects?

Want help?

There are many avenues to find support, whether one has commercial insurance, Medicare, Medicaid, or no insurance at all. You can call your local Behavioral Health Authority, and talk to someone who can immediately assess your need for treatment and link you to the appropriate resources. Treatment can involve medical supervision, individual or group therapy, peer support, 12 step recovery, case management, family therapy, and psychiatric services.

Below are several links depending on your need:

If any of these apply to someone you know, show that person that you care, are concerned, and are there to support them! Understand that there are likely reasons they do what they do:

  • Self-medicate for severe/chronic pain from their injuries
  • Cope with the trauma that they have endured
  • Try to combat their symptoms of depression due to a loss they have experienced in their life
  • Escape from their new reality
  • Use due to an underlying mental health condition

You can use the resources above, or contact a professional who can help you get connected. You can also contact the BIAMI staff to help you connect with helpful resources. Stay strong, supportive, and realize that they may be doing the best they can, in this moment, to get through whatever difficulties they may be facing.

Angela M. Haas, LMSW CAADC is a licensed master’s level social worker with her certified advanced alcohol and drug counselor certification. She works with Special Tree Rehabilitation Systems in their outpatient clinic in Midland and Saginaw.

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