Teens with TBIs have a greater chance of using crystal meth, other drugs

December 9, 2014

Students in grades 9 through 12 in Ontario who experienced a traumatic brain injury were two to four times more likely to report using drugs compared to adolescents without TBIs, according to a study conducted at St. Michael’s Hospital.
Lead study author Michael Cusimano, M.D., noted that teens with histories of traumatic brain injuries are at least twice as likely to drink alcohol, smoke marijuana or use other types of substances. However, when examining certain types of drugs, such as crystal meth, the rates were higher. The findings were published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation.
The study authors collected data from a 2011 Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey that was distributed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. The survey is ongoing and examines adolescent health, overall well-being and substance abuse. The questions about traumatic brain injury were added in 2011.

If an adolescent begins using drugs after experiencing a TBI, that may also hinder recovery.”

The survey included reports from approximately 6,383 Ontario students in grades 9 through 12. The surveys let the study authors examine specific substances that were abused and link them to a history of TBIs, but it did not allow them to discover if the injury or drug use came first.

A noticeable difference

The report found that teens with TBIs were 3.8 times more likely to use crystal meth, nonmedical sedatives or tranquilizers. They were also 2.8 times more prone to use ecstasy, 2.7 times likelier to use non-prescribed opioids, 2.5 times more likely to use cocaine or LSD and 2 times more likely to use nonmedical ADHD medication.

The researchers noted that the behavior could stimulate a bad cycle, as teens who misuse and abuse substances are more likely to injure themselves, potentially sustaining another TBI such as a concussion. If an adolescent begins using drugs after experiencing a TBI, that may also hinder recovery.

Creating dangerous habits

The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center noted that TBIs and alcohol use are significantly correlated. Approximately two-thirds of people who experience a TBI have a history of alcohol abuse or binge drinking. Between 30 and 50 percent of people who sustain a TBI were under the influence at the time of the injury. Though some people cut down on their substance abuse post-injury, some continue their detrimental behavior or make it worse. Alcohol can hurt the brain after a TBI. It can make people’s cognition worse, trigger depression and slow the process of recovery, potentially even stopping it. Substance abuse can also put people at a higher risk of experiencing another brain injury.

Teens were also more likely to smoke cigarettes in the past year and twice as likely to binge drink in the past month.
A TBI is classified as any hit to the head that causes a person to be unconscious for five minutes or more, resulting in a hospitalization. Some milder forms of TBIs are considered concussions. However, the researchers warned that every TBI should be taken seriously, even if it is a concussion. People who do not take the proper precautions may deal with short- or long-term effects.

Looking forward

The researchers concluded that the study showed there were definitive links between TBIs in teens and drug abuse. Though the causal effect is not known, the study authors stated that their findings can help people be wary of this combination.
The researchers also noted that a more significant focus on preventing this combination is crucial. They hope to continue their research to get to know what behaviors might cause this relationship and determine exactly when it begins.

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