What to Know About Drinking Alcohol After a Traumatic Brain Injury

by NPHM | July 6th, 2020

Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) are among the most devastating types of injuries people experience from accidents. TBIs can be caused by auto accidents, motorcycle accidents, boat accidents, slip and fall accidents, and more. People who suffer TBIs often experience long-term and sometimes even permanent side effects, including changes in personality, impaired cognition, and reduced fine motor skills.

Fortunately, although the brain doesn’t heal as well as other organs after injury, many people who suffer TBIs, even severe ones, eventually recover to some degree. That means that the limitations they face in the days, weeks, and months after their injuries aren’t necessarily the limitations they’ll face years in the future.

But recovering from a TBI is all about taking the right steps to promote the body’s own natural healing response. Anything that interferes with that response, including sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and alcohol consumption, can delay or impair the brain’s ability to regenerate damaged cells.

Why Does Drinking Alcohol Interfere with TBI Recovery?

Unlike many other cells in the body, brain cells are much more difficult to regenerate and repair. In fact, many claim that the brain stops generating new cells at a certain age and that any damaged or destroyed cells are gone forever. The science behind this is controversial, but recent studies are promising and indicate that even adults can grow new neurons and form new connections between existing neurons after a brain injury.

However, drinking alcohol slows down or stops this process. That’s because consuming alcohol not only tampers with all steps involved in the body’s healing process, but it can also damage parts of neurons called dendrites. These parts of the brain are responsible for transmitting information between neurons. Because this damaging effect can occur in healthy brains, it’s even more important for TBI victims to avoid alcohol, as they may already have experienced damage to their dendrites.

Alcohol Affects TBI Victims Differently

The effects of alcohol on behavior and personality can vary from person to person. The same is true for TBI victims. Because their brains have experienced damage and are in the process of regeneration and rewiring, TBI victims may be affected differently by alcohol than they were before their injuries.

For example, TBI survivors who drink alcohol, even casually, are 3-8 times more at risk of suffering a second TBI than other people. One reason for this is the compounding effects of alcohol on the already damaged parts of their brains responsible for balance, coordination, and fine motor skills. In addition, many TBI victims suffer from impaired judgment and decision-making—both of which are also heavily affected by alcohol consumption.

In some cases, TBI victims can even suffer serious and potentially life-threatening complications after drinking alcohol, including seizures. People with TBIs often experience seizures as a long-term side effect, and the consumption of alcohol lowers the threshold for having a seizure while also reducing the effectiveness of anti-seizure medications.

TBI-Related Depression Is Worsened by Alcohol

Many TBI victims develop depression and anxiety after their injuries. These conditions can be caused both by physical changes to the brain, including alterations to brain chemistry and neurotransmitters, as well as changes to their daily lives.

Because alcohol is a depressant, it can have negative effects on people’s moods after they drink. That makes it especially dangerous for TBI victims, who may already have difficulty controlling their emotions due to irregularities in their brains caused by their injury. In addition, alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications, making symptoms of depression more pronounced.

Is There a Safe Amount of Alcohol for TBI Victims to Drink?

TBI victims are more sensitive to alcohol in many ways. Because many TBI victims already experience symptoms that are similar to those that occur after alcohol consumption, including physical, emotional, and behavioral changes, any amount of alcohol can exacerbate their difficulties.

Because the brain continues to repair itself for months, years, and even decades after a TBI occurs, there’s no safe time to begin drinking after suffering a TBI. It’s important for TBI victims to do everything in their power to give their brains adequate time to heal, regenerate, and make important new connections, and drinking alcohol can slow down, interfere with, or even cause that process to regress.

Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy Fights for TBI Victims

TBIs are uniquely challenging injuries. Because many victims may suffer injuries only to their heads and brains after serious accidents, they may appear outwardly normal and think they don’t need major medical intervention or treatments. In many cases, they may even act and behave as they always have, making it difficult to tell in the hours, days, and weeks afterward how severely they’ve been hurt.

But even minor to moderate TBIs can cause subtle changes in victims’ personalities, behavior, and cognition. They may be more prone to emotional outbursts, have reduced attention spans, and experience physical symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and impaired balance.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our Ohio TBI lawyers know how devastating these injuries can be for victims and their families, whether their effects are immediately obvious or take time to show up. In many cases, TBIs are caused by others’ negligence, especially in the case of vehicular accidents. It’s our goal to hold people who cause TBIs responsible for all the ways that victims and their loved ones have and will suffer after their accidents.

If you or someone you love suffered a TBI because of someone else’s negligence, we want to help. Contact us today at 216-621-2300 for a free consultation.