The Caregiver's Journey

Alcohol and Drug Use

Some people with TBI turn to alcohol and/or drugs to help them cope with the effects of their injury. This coping strategy for a person with TBI can be very harmful and is never a good idea.

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.

Alcohol and other non-prescription drugs can slow down the recovery of your service member/veteran with TBI in the following ways:

  • 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 for public drinking 
  • 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 that can lead to another TBI or worse

Cognitive difficulties and decreased awareness make it more difficult for your family member with TBI to recognize that alcohol and drugs have a negative effect on him or her.

Take an active role in helping your service member/veteran with TBI avoid alcohol and drugs.

You might:

  • Talk with him or her about readiness to change drinking or drug use. Help your family member make a list of pros and cons of using substances.
  • Spend time with those family and friends who are supportive of your service member/veteran not using substances. Minimize spending time with those who are not supportive.
  • Avoid high-risk situations, such as people or places that your service member/veteran associates with drinking or using drugs.
  • Develop a plan to help your service member/veteran cope with tempting situations, such as leaving the situation or calling a supportive friend.
  • Explore new social circles or environments that do not involve drinking.
  • Encourage learning of new ways to deal with stress.
  • Remove alcohol and other dangerous substances from the home.
  • If depression or boredom or loneliness are reasons for use, seek counseling and other services.
  • If your service member/veteran has recently quit using substances, talk openly with him or her about the possibility of using again in the future and stress that one “slip” does not need to mean a return to regular use. Encourage use of support systems to help avoid a full relapse.
  • Locate a local AA group or treatment program if advised by your healthcare team.
  • Use of alcohol should be discussed with the healthcare team before leaving the rehabilitation facility.