Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Abuse
This is the last game of the season, the stands are packed and everyone has come out to see if we can make it. It’s 4th and long, there’s 30 seconds to go, we are down by a field goal. The crowd is in a roar, an exact divide between going for the touchdown or tie it with a field goal. Our star running back has had the best season of his life, heck, of the entire league and our kicker has missed his last two attempts. The huddles over and the crowd goes insane as the team lines in up for a running play. The defense stacks up leaving no man in the backfield. The quarterback steps up, “HUT! HUT! 32! Blue! Hike!.” The ball is snapped, the play begins, the bodies go in motion. There’s the handoff to the running back. No wait! It’s a fake! The quarter back still has the ball and we have an open receiver in the end zone. The ball is thrown. Two men go for the ball, it’s caught! We win! Why isn’t our receiver getting up and celebrating? The crowd goes silent. The coaches rush to his aid as he lay there motionless. Now, medical with a stretcher onto the field. The woman sitting next to me puts her hand over mouth. We stand there, silent and as stiff as the injured player waiting for him to jump up and limp off the field. We have this hope, this cheer on deck, this expectation that we will see a thumbs up as they load him on to the gurney. It never comes. He’s rushed away. We later find that he has suffered a severe concussion and is in a coma. From the replay we see a helmet to helmet hit. It was one too many. His antics off the field, the suspension for drugs, the DUI’s, the erratic behavior. He had problems, but it was because he was young and irresponsible right? Not because he’s suffered from four concussions over the past year…right?
Recently Chris Boreland, 24 years of age and promising NFLer retired. Likely because he doesn’t want to be a character in this fictional, yet probable scenario described above. According to the Boston Globe writer Christopher Glasber, “In all the debate over the decision of Borland, who called it a career at age 24 after one season playing linebacker for the San Francisco 49ers because of his concerns about neurodegenerative brain conditions like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) what has been lost is what the game has gained. Players now have a choice.”
The research connecting traumatic brain injury and drug abuse is official. The choice to self medicate than to deal with the irrational emotions or mental overload is easy. The drugs are easy to find and the process for helping a player after it’s discovered is nonexistent.
Drug Abuse and Addiction Affects Millions of Americans and Their Loved Ones Every Year
In 2013, an estimated 24.6 million Americans aged 12 or older were current (past month) illicit drug users, meaning they had used an illicit drug during the month prior to the survey interview (NSDUH, 2014). Recent studies have begun to show the correlation between Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Abuse. TBI is a disruption of normal brain function that occurs when the skull is struck, penetrated, suddenly thrust out of position, or struck by blast pressure waves (Addiction Staff, 2011). Disabilities with traumatic origin are strongly associated with substance abuse (Corrigan, Rust, & Lamb-Hart, 1995).
Addiction Staff (2011) provides the following statistics about traumatic brain injuries: groups with the highest proportions of TBI are adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 and adults aged 75 and older. Another fact is that males have higher rates of TBI than females, and this holds true across all age groups. The aforementioned sports-related traumatic brain injuries account for between 1.6 and 3.8 million each year. High-impact sports, such as football can attribute to many of the injuries associated with sports that result in TBI. It is not surprising that a number of people after they have had traumatic brain injury also have a substance abuse problem.
An Interesting Link Between Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Abuse
But what about the incidence of substance abuse prior to injury? Surveys have established that substance use disorder (SUD) or acute intoxication both substantially increases the risk of TBI and makes recovery from it more prolonged. Studies have found that between one-third and four-fifths of patients hospitalized for TBI have histories of misusing substances (Addiction Staff, 2011). Specifically, as many as 50% of spinal cord injuries (SCI) and traumatic brain injuries (TBI) occur as a direct result of alcohol or drug abuse (Corrigan, Rust, & Lamb-Hart, 1995). The link between Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Abuse indicates not only a worse outcome and prolonged recovery, but also a probability of repeat TBI (Addiction Staff, 2011).
The sum of research regarding Traumatic Brain Injury and Drug Abuse suggests a very grim outcome, but as Addiction Staff (2011) suggests, the outlook is hopeful. For individuals suffering with both addiction and TBI, care for these two conditions can and should be concurrent. Through addiction rehabilitative services such as inpatient treatment, therapy, and education about the importance of refraining from substance use, individuals facing the combined difficulties of TBI and addiction can find recovery and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.
Addiction Staff (2011, May 20). Brain Injury and Substance Abuse. Retrieved from http://www.addiction.com/3284/brain-injury-treatment/.
Corrigan, J. D., Rust, E., & Lamb-Hart, G. L. (1995). The nature and extent of substance abuse problems in persons with traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, 10(3), 29.
The National Survey on Drug Use and Health. (2014). Substance Use and Mental Health
Estimates from the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Overview of Findings. Retrieved from http://store.samhsa.gov/shin/content/NSDUH14-0904/NSDUH14-0904.pdf
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