It comes down to choosing between giving yourself the best possible chance of increasing your ability to recover or making a choice to struggle unnecessarily and for longer. The injured brain is already dealing with an array of biochemical toxins that continue to flood your system until addressed. It makes sense that adding anything else to the overload will not only make your symptoms worse but will also prolong their incidence.
Making conscious decisions becomes easier when we are aware of the contributing factors we need to take into account, and this starts with moving knowledge from learning to acceptance. Until we do this, we remain passive to new information.
There is no safe level or amount of alcohol that you can drink after a brain injury.
The brain is more sensitive to alcohol following a brain injury, and many people will be unaware that their tolerance levels can seriously reduce. This intolerance can lead to problems with estimating abilities and understanding what you can do safely. Even one drink may drastically reduce your ability to do anything that requires balance and coordination, and it is crucial to bear in mind that you are 3 to 8 times more likely of having another TBI.
This reduced tolerance can magnify the outcomes and symptoms of brain injury, such as worsening memory problems and fatigue, and increasing your chances of having depression. Difficulties with speech and word-finding, and skills such as maintaining attention and processing speeds, are also exacerbated by alcohol use post-TBI.
People need to consider all activities that they may need to undertake even if only having one small drink with food. For example, how are you going to get home, are there any uneven surfaces you need to take into account or steps that may be easy to misjudge? You should never drive after drinking either as your reactions will be dampened.
Alcohol is a neurotoxin
Alcohol is a poison or neurotoxin that can cause physical injury to the brain, even in those who have never had a brain injury. Even more moderate alcohol use over some time can cause alcohol-related brain injury (ARBI) as alcohol disrupts the intake vitamin B1, has a toxic effect on the central nervous system and is likely to cause dehydration affecting the functionality of the brain. Dehydration is also a significant cause of headaches post TBI.
Vitamin B1 (thiamine) is needed to provide energy to the body. It is especially important for brain and nerve cells because they use so much energy. Therefore alcohol can also exacerbate brain fog and fatigue.
Regular heavy drinking damages nerve cells causes chemical changes in the brain and also causes brain tissue to shrink. The damaging effect on blood vessels is linked to high blood pressure, raised cholesterol levels, and an increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. All of these conditions can damage the brain further.
As people living with brain injury are at higher risk of dementia and Parkinson’s disease, it is wise to take every precaution possible and to do everything you can to improve your general health.
History of alcohol abuse
Surprisingly statistics show that up to two-thirds of people who have a TBI have a history of alcohol abuse and between 30-50% of people were injured while they were drunk. Estimates suggest that around 50% of historic drinkers either cut down on their drinking or stop post-injury altogether. Those who continue to drink heavily increase their risk of prolonging the outcomes and symptoms of brain injury and of having adverse life outcomes.
It is essential to be aware that the adverse mental effects of alcohol can last from days to weeks after drinking stops and being aware of this can help to prevent people from becoming disillusioned during this detoxification period.
Avoiding alcohol can reduce the risk of developing seizures as it lowers the seizure threshold. Alcohol may trigger seizures post brain injury.
Not only is alcohol a neurotoxin, but it is also “depressant” and can cause or worsen depression.
Depression is about eight times more common in the first year after TBI than in the general population, and even without alcohol, people are at risk of becoming depressed due to life changes and managing trauma.
Alcohol can also reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressant medications. People who are taking antidepressants should not drink alcohol and should make their doctor aware of any abuse.
Alcohol is especially dangerous for people who are taking prescription medications as it greatly increases the effects of some medications leading to a risk of overdose and death. It can also make some other medicines less effective. Using alcohol, along with anti-anxiety medications or pain medications, can be highly dangerous because of the possible multiplying effect and increased risk of addiction.
See prescription drugs to learn about the dangers and effects on the brain.
Many non-prescription drugs are used illegally and are addictive. The use of multiple drugs together, such as marijuana and alcohol, increase the likelihood of addiction and increases the risks of overdose.
To be able to recover from a brain injury you need as much clarity as possible because it is your thinking that enables you to be aware of what is broken neurologically and cognitively allowing you to focus on what needs fixing. If you use drugs to avoid psychological change, then the issues you are trying to dodge will stay with you until you address them.
Drugs don’t make life events go away – they exacerbate their presence and drag you down.
While some people don’t have any desire to stop drinking or using drugs post brain injury, this is often because they don’t know about the increased risks, or perhaps because they have tried in the past and have not been successful.
It is crucial to make conscious choices and not to underestimate your ability to change if you want to. The only thing that limits your dreams is you.
The main question you should ask yourself is whether you want the best life possible. Do you want to feel good inside your skin again?
It can be difficult to make conscious choices when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and often people need to be creative when thinking about the closed questions they can ask themselves.
Many people also stop caring about themselves when they use drugs and alcohol and struggle to associate this with low self-esteem and the disempowerment they may feel.
People can also struggle with ambiguity when the brain is under the influence of addictive substances and because memory can be affected many people continue to justify their behaviours and elevate their excuses from being these to being a kind of personal truth.
For example, someone may repeatedly tell themselves that they need drugs to help them with emotional pain caused by past trauma or abuse. These false justifications will never solve the past and will only enable that past to stay with you. To overcome the past, you need to face it, and this is a process that is often best approached with the help and support of a professional, such as a counsellor.
Avoidance will never help you get beyond your past, and all the time you remain trapped, there is all the time it will always be difficult for you to be present ‘in the moment’ or to look forward. Sometimes we can get so stuck being one way that we forget how refreshing it can be to be unburdened.
Many people who have smoked weed, for example, who more than a decade post mild traumatic brain injury report that they are no better than they were at the start. In other words, people can struggle to notice any improvements with any cognitive impairments, and, despite using marijuana believing it would take their pain and sadness away, they report that there is a continued and persisting presence of depression. Marijuana affects both long and short-term memory in non-brain injured people; these effects are likely to be exacerbated in people living with an injured brain.
The use of drugs and alcohol can fuel the belief that this is going to be the answer, and it can be incredibly difficult for people to break out of these habitual ways of thinking. Understand that changing is going to take time because there may be many thinking habits that you will need to identify, overcome and replace with positive patterns of thinking that empower you.
- Get outside help – it is important to work with a professional counsellor or specialist service
- Make conscious choices based on knowledge
- Set specific goals
- Observe responsible and thriving non-addicts and notice their joy, achievements and attitudes
- Make a list of closed questions to ask yourself and stick the answers somewhere you will see them when you get up in the morning
- Identify triggers and prepare some coping mechanisms that will help you to get past temptations to go backwards and undo all your work
- Use Black Seed Oil to aid detoxification, overcome addiction and to support withdrawal and a return to health
Alzheimer’s Society – Alcohol-related brain damage
NCBI – The Influence of Alcohol on Mortality in Traumatic Brain Injury
Narconon.org – Stimulants: Injury to the Brain and Mind