Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is when the brain becomes damaged following an incident or series of incidents. Military veterans are the most widely known when it comes to traumatic brain injury. Sports-related TBIs are actually more common than people think, but military veterans get more attention due to the catastrophic nature. Due to TBIs, people may turn to substances as a means of coping with symptoms. These symptoms can be debilitating for some people and alter the course of their lives until they are given some support. Learn more about how to find help for substance abuse and TBIs.
How TBIs Occur
The brain is a fickle organ. It is protected by the skull, but only so far as the brain and skull remain unharmed. If it is jostled, struck, hit, or punched by an object too many times (as in contact sports), a TBI can result. This results in either blunt or penetrating trauma. Both of which do grave damage to the tissues of the brain. Secondary effects can include swelling, deprivation of oxygen, bleeding internally, or other things that result in the death of brain cells. Sometimes this impacts a region of the brain. Other times, TBI impacts many parts of the brain. TBI can cause cognitive effects, including:
- Feeling exhausted quickly
- Difficulty focusing or multitasking
- Cognitive delays
- Sensory difficulty with sound or lighting issues
- Difficulty regulating emotions
TBI symptoms often mirror psychiatric disorders. Addiction treatment specialists who are aware of the effects of TBI can work with the person to address these issues in a comprehensive way. A multidimensional approach from areas of psychiatry, psychotherapy, and addiction specialty medicine can go a long way to creating a holistic approach to healing for someone coping with addiction and symptoms of TBI.
Linking Addiction to TBI
Myriad ways link TBI and addiction. It raises the person’s risk of TBI due to impaired reflexes and judgment. Alcohol is a reported substance prior to TBI with nearly 75 percent of people having measurable alcohol in their blood upon admission to hospitals. Treatment programs report people with a history of head injury who struggle to even complete the intake process. The negative impacts are great because people are struggling with both the pain and trauma from the brain injury, but also negative impacts from the addictive symptoms and behavior. The truth is alcohol is one of the more misused substances for people with TBI because of its numbing effects. It helps calm people’s anxiety and nerves and brings down some of the pain levels they may be facing. TBI is associated with reduced consumption of alcohol or drugs afterward. These effects are temporary because a history of substance abuse before TBI increases the chance of recurrence after TBI. The best way forward for people with TBI is to seek addiction treatment for co-occurring mental health and addiction together. A comprehensive plan can be created that further supports the person’s healing from addiction.
Treatment for TBI is difficult. There are many moving parts to deal with and, quite often, there are physical issues at play. Addiction treatment should take all the history of a person’s journey into account when developing a master plan. Careful observation of a TBI attention span is critical to understanding how someone copes with their reality. Some people with TBI absorb information if they take notes or some need a planner. Some cannot remember much of anything in the short term and require lots of help. A counselor should not decide because someone lacks motivation they are not willing to do the work in recovery. TBI is a difficult diagnosis to work with because it requires a multifaceted approach to healing. Although it can get better over time, a person may always deal with some of the impacts of a TBI.
To find the best possibility of hope for someone with TBI and addiction, treatment should consider a person’s medical history, including a history of brain injury so they can be successful. If a loved one is trying to cope with addiction, they are likely going to need family support and loved ones around them. The road is hard, and often lonely, to feel understood and validated for what is going on in the mind that people cannot see. This is the same for addiction. It is like a double whammy for people with co-occurring TBI. the key is to find hope and healing with the right professionals who understand how to help process through the experience and bring hope for a better future.
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