Concussions Spike Odds of Teens' Drug Abuse

December 3, 2014
Eileen Oldfield Associate Editor

Teens with a history of traumatic brain injury are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs than peers who have not experienced a concussion.

Teens with a history of traumatic brain injury (TBI) are twice as likely to abuse alcohol, marijuana, or other drugs than peers who have not experienced a concussion, new research published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation suggests.

In the study, teenagers who reported a head trauma also reported drug use rates that were 2 to 4 times higher than those with no history of TBI.

For instance, teens who experienced a TBI within the past 12 months reported that 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

Additionally, teens with a history of TBI were more likely to report daily smoking, and were also more likely to have binge drank.

“On top of the other health consequences, substance abuse increases the odds of suffering an injury that could result in a TBI,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, a neurosurgeon and co-principal investigator of the study, in a press release. “Using some of these substances may also impair recovery after injury.”

For their study, researchers analyzed data from the 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey to determine reported substance use among 6383 Ontario students in grades 9 through 12.

In the study, TBI was defined as any hit or blow to the head that resulted in the teenager being knocked out for at least 5 minutes or spending at least 1 night in a hospital due to symptoms associated with a head injury. This included concussions, which the researchers noted are mild to moderate TBIs.

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

The researchers noted that they could not discern from the survey data whether substance use or brain injury came first.