Alcohol and Drug Use

Some people with TBI turn to alcohol and/or drugs to help them cope with the effects of their injury and the stressful events they have experienced. This coping strategy for a person with TBI can be very harmful and is never a good idea. Alcohol and drug use slow down recovery and may cause TBI symptoms to become worse. Additionally, after a TBI, the brain is more vulnerable to the effects of alcohol and drugs, so the person will feel these effects much more quickly.

Use of alcohol should be discussed with your family member and the healthcare team before leaving the rehabilitation facility.

Alcohol misuse and abuse of prescription and non-prescription drugs slow down recovery after TBI because they can:

  • Make it harder for the brain to heal
  • Interfere with thinking processes that are already slowed down
  • Interact negatively with prescription medications
  • Increase aggressive and socially inappropriate behaviors
  • Increase balance problems
  • Promote other risky behaviors
  • Create greater risk for seizures
  • Increase problems with the law
  • Cause addiction
  • Cause problems with friends and family
  • Worsen feelings of depression and anxiety
  • Put your family member and others at risk for falls, car crashes, and other accidents or mishaps that can lead to another TBI

Cognitive difficulties and decreased awareness make it more difficult for the service member or veteran to recognize that alcohol and drugs have a negative effect on them.

You can help by seeking information and understanding some of the stressors your family member is experiencing. For yourself and other family members, it may be helpful to explore the following resources:

  • Al-Anon and Alateen
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline

Other resources for you and your service member or veteran include:

  • Military OneSource
  • U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Mental Health – Alcohol and Drug Misuse
  • Military/Veterans Crisis Line (call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1; or text to 838255)

Talk to your family member’s healthcare team about your concerns. They will be able to identify local resources for both of you. Take an active role to help them avoid alcohol and drug use and to find support for you and your family as you navigate this challenge.

You might:

  • Seek help with a behavioral health specialist that can help you strategize how best to support yourself and the service member or veteran.
  • Encourage the service member or veteran to seek help with a behavioral health specialist.
  • Talk with your family member about readiness to change drinking or drug use. Help the service member or veteran make a list of pros and cons of using substances.
  • Spend time with those family and friends who are supportive of the service member or veteran not using substances. Eliminate or minimize spending time with those who are not supportive.
  • Avoid high-risk situations, such as people or places that your family member associates with drinking or using drugs.
  • Develop a plan to help the service member or veteran cope with tempting situations, such as physically leaving the situation or calling a supportive friend.
  • Explore new social circles or environments that do not involve drinking or drug use.
  • Encourage learning of new ways to deal with stress.
  • Remove alcohol and other dangerous substances from the home.
  • If depression, boredom, or loneliness is the reason for use, seek counseling and other services.
  • If your family member has recently quit using substances, talk openly with them about the possibility of using again in the future and be sure to stress that one “slip” backwards does not need to mean a return to regular use. Encourage the use of support systems to help avoid a full relapse.
  • Locate a local Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) group or treatment program if advised by your healthcare team.