Is traumatic brain injury early in life a precursor to drug use?  Teenagers who have suffered a traumatic brain injury are twice as likely to drink alcohol or use drugs when compared with whose who have never experienced a similar blow or trauma to the head.  Young adults who’ve suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are more than four times more likely to take the drug than those without a history of the injury.

That’s according to a study of Ontario high school students that was published November 2014 in The Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.

For years, researchers noticed this unfortunate combination in many young patients. They had either sustained a head injury while drinking or high on drugs; or were injured — for instance, while playing sports — and subsequently developed substance abuse problems.  TBI is described as any hit or blow to the head that results in the individual being knocked unconscious for at least five minutes, or spending at least one night in the hospital due to symptoms associated with the injury. The researchers explained that some of these more milder cases of TBI may be referred to as concussions, but it’s important not to simplify this term.

Curious about whether this was part of a more widespread phenomena, hospital researchers teamed up with other experts at CAMH, which is responsible for the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, one of the longest-running school surveys worldwide. For the first time, the 2011 survey asked about traumatic brain injury, defined as any hit or blow to the head that resulted in being knocked out for at least five minutes or spending at least one night in the hospital.

Data from that survey was used in the study. Experts pored over responses of 6,383 teens in Grades 9 to 12, considered representative of all Ontario students in those grades. About 20 per cent said they had suffered a brain injury in their lifetime. Among this group, the odds of substance use were significantly greater.

This is a major concern when evaluating young people.  Drug use may be caused by traumatic brain injury.  Stay tuned.