Traumatic brain injuries in childhood elevate the risk of abusing alcohol later in life, according to an analysis of previous research published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. The study notes about half of all traumatic brain injuries (TBI) are related to alcohol use. Children who sustain a TBI are less likely to finish school or keep a job, and they are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health or neurological condition.
Head injuries are common in childhood, particularly among young children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009-2010, children ages 0-4 had the highest rate of brain injuries of any age group. Annually, children ages 0-14 make nearly half a million emergency department visits due to a TBI.
Childhood Brain Injuries and Adult Alcohol Abuse
The link between alcohol use and developing a brain injury is well-established, but little research has explored the link between TBI and subsequent alcohol abuse risk. Based on an analysis of previous research, the study found a clear correlation between TBI and later substance abuse, particularly of alcohol. For instance, children younger than 5 years old who experience a TBI are 3.6 times more likely to abuse substances as teenagers.
Studies of animals support this conclusion. One study found adult mice with access to alcohol drank significantly more if they had suffered a brain injury in childhood.
How a Brain Injury Increases Substance Abuse Riskrelationships and employment, are also risk factors for alcohol abuse. A TBI might also change the brain. Head injury sufferers often become more impulsive. This may make them less mindful of the consequences of their actions, including excessive drinking.
Research also supports the notion that TBI causes brain inflammation. Alcohol also causes inflammation, and some studies of animals have found inflammation can drive problem drinking.
The study’s authors emphasize that their research is provisional. More studies are necessary to establish a definite correlation between TBI and alcoholism. However, the apparent link suggests providers should treat TBI as a potential risk factor for later alcohol abuse.
- McKinlay, A., & Hawley, C. (n.d.). Incidence rates for traumatic brain injury in children. Retrieved from http://www.internationalbrain.org/incidence-rates-for-traumatic-brain-injury-in-children/
- Rates of TBI-related emergency department visits by age group–United States, 2001-2010. (2016, January 22). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/data/rates_ed_byage.html
- Weil, Z. M., & Karelina, K. (2017). Traumatic brain injuries during development: Implications for alcohol abuse. Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, 11. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2017.00135
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