Acquired Brain Injury System Navigation of Southeastern Ontario

Substance Use

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Heightened Risks of Substance Use Following Brain Injury

Substance use is of greater concern following a brain injury due to the impact of drugs and/or alcohol on the healing brain.  Use of alcohol and illicit drugs can hamper the brain’s ability to heal, increase risk of seizures, and increase impairments.  Tolerance for certain substances including alcohol is also reduced following an brain injury, causing the individual to display signs of intoxication at levels of use they might not have previously. Compounding the nature of addiction issues, the brain injury can affect the individual’s self-awareness and perceptions, reducing their ability to recognize concerns and consequences of substance misuse.

Considerations for Addictions Professionals

Individuals living with a brain injury are often more susceptible to addiction issues.  According to the Substance Use/Brain Injury Bridging Project (SUBI) as many as 30% of individual are intoxicated at the time they sustained their brain injury, and even those who did not have substance use concerns prior to the injury are at increased risk of using following an injury.

There are many factors which contribute to these concerns.  Individuals may be experiencing a loss of abilities or vocational pursuits, or experiencing a trauma response to the injury.  Alcohol or drug use may be used by the survivor to self-medicate these emotional concerns.  Additionally many individuals experience impairment in the areas of impulse regulation, decision making, and problem solving, which may allow the circumstances for substance use to become excessive.

There are many resources available which have been tailored to address the issues surrounding substance misuse in the ABI population.   These include SUBI and the Ohio Valley Centre for Traumatic Brain Injury.  It has been demonstrated that the best outcomes are achieved when the addictions services and brain injury rehabilitation programs occur simultaneously and maintain open contact with one another. Professionals may find it is helpful to engage others in the survivor’s life, such as family or caregivers, to provide feedback.  When gathering information, questions should be specific about the amount of alcohol or substances used each day and how often in a week.  The issue should be discussed in a calm, non-judgmental way to elicit most honest responses. 

System Navigation can provide consultation and support to coordinate working relationships where addictions are a concern.  Please contact us for further information.

ABI System Navigation of Southeastern Ontario

303 Bagot Street LaSalle Mews, Suite 401 Kingston, Ontario K7K 5W7


Michelle Pangilinan,
ABI-SEO System Navigator

613-547-6969 ext. 165
[email protected]

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