Guest Post: Does Traumatic Brain Injury Increase The Risk Of Substance Abuse By Matt Gonzales

It is well established that substance abuse could lead to traumatic brain injuries. According to a study published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 60 percent of 211 TBI injuries involved drugs or alcohol.

But can a brain injury lead to substance abuse? According to a report published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine, it is possible.

The study suggests people who experience a TBI have shown a preference for small, immediate rewards over larger, delayed rewards — similar to individuals with a substance use disorder. It suggests TBI may impair their ability to understand the consequences of drug use.

There are more reasons as to why people with brain injuries turn to drugs or alcohol:

  • Depression
  • Isolation
  • Self-medication due to chronic pain

NFL players know what chronic pain feels like. This has led to substance abuse among many players.

In a study published by Drug and Alcohol Dependence 52 percent of 644 retired NFL players admitted to using prescription pain medications during their playing days. Of that group, 71 percent admitted to misusing drugs. Many continued using into retirement.

Another study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine reported that individuals who sustained a TBI prior to 5 years old or between ages 16 and 25 were at an increased risk for drug or alcohol dependence.

Additional risk factors for substance abuse after TBI:

  • Pre-TBI substance abuse
  • Post-TBI depression
  • Male
  • Young adult
  • Unmarried
  • Lack of health insurance

After a traumatic injury, a person’s brain is more vulnerable to drugs and alcohol. Small amounts of alcohol, for instance, may affect a person’s judgement or their ability to walk. Substance abuse among TBI survivors also increases the chance of sustaining another brain injury.

There are many ways to address a substance abuse problem. One effective route is to seek treatment. If you or someone you know has picked up a drug or alcohol dependence after a brain injury, contact a nearby treatment center.

About the Author

Matt Gonzales is a writer and researcher for He boasts several years of experience writing for a daily publication, multiple weekly journals, a quarterly magazine and various online platforms. He has a bachelor’s degree in communication, with a Journalism concentration, from East Carolina University.


Bjork, J.M. & Grant, S.J. (2009, July 13). Does Traumatic Brain Injury Increase Risk for Substance Abuse? Retrieved from

Corrigan, J.D., Rust, E. & Lamb-Hart, G.L. (1995, June). The nature and extent of substance abuse problems in persons with traumatic brain injury. Retrieved from

Cottler, L.B. et al. (2011, July 1). Injury, pain, and prescription opioid use among former National Football League (NFL) players. Retrieved from

McKinlay, A. et al. (2014, November/December). Substance abuse and criminal activities following traumatic brain injury in childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood. Retrieved from

Sander, A.M. (2008). Alcohol and Drug Use After Traumatic Brain Injury: Why Not? Retrieved from

One Reply to “Guest Post: Does Traumatic Brain Injury Increase The Risk Of Substance Abuse By Matt Gonzales”

  1. Good article!
    So…….I have some experience in this.

    I had a head injury at 17 years old that left me in the ICU for 48 hours and having to go through plenty of therapy, getting moved down in class difficulty (from a straight A AP student in high school to college prep and then remedial classes), and ended in a severe depression.

    It was AFTER this that I began drinking and smoking marijuana and within one year had developed a very bad cocaine and painkiller addiction too.

    Now….I am NOT going to blame my addiction on that head injury – LONG BEFORE I EVER PICKED UP A DRINK OR A DRUG I EXHIBITED ALCOHOLIC/ADDICT THINKING.

    I do believe however, it sped up that process and left me more susceptible to taking the plunge to full-blown addiction/alcoholism so rapidly.

    I was “brain mapped” around 24 years old and they could still see where my head hit the ground, that the two spheres of my brain were not communicating properly, and my frontal cortex was significantly less active than the rest of my brain.

    Very interesting.

    Now, starting to drink and drug immediately FOLLOWING a head injury is NOT the way to let it heal so I am VERY grateful I’ve made the recovery I have and I am very grateful for my clean and sober time today.

    I ended up being in active addiction for around a decade following that accident for those of you wondering.

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