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Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2008 Oct;1141:148-62. doi: 10.1196/annals.1441.029.

An update on substance use and treatment following traumatic brain injury.

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  • 1Houston Center for Quality of Care and Utilization Studies, Health Services Research, Houston, TX 77030, USA.


Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a leading cause of mortality and morbidity among young adults. Substance abusers constitute a disproportionate percentage of these patients. A history of substance abuse predicts increased disability, poorer prognosis, and delayed recovery. While consensus in the literature indicates that substance-abuse rates decline following injury, conflicting literature shows a significant history of brain injury in addicts. We reviewed the literature on substance abuse after TBI to explore the state of knowledge on TBI as a risk factor for substance abuse. While recent reviews regarding substance abuse in TBI patients concur that substance-abuse rates decline even after mild TBI, an emerging literature suggests mild TBI may cause subtle impairments in cognitive, executive, and decision-making functions that are often poorly recognized in early diagnosis and treatment. When combined with difficulties in psychosocial adjustment and coping skills, these impairments may increase the risk for chronic substance abuse in a subset of TBI patients. Preliminary results from veterans indicate these patterns hold in a combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder population with TBI. This increasingly prevalent combination presents a specific challenge in rehabilitation. While this comorbidity presents a challenge for the successful treatment and rehabilitation of both disorders, there is sparse evidence to recommend any specific treatment strategy for these individuals. Mild TBI and substance abuse are bidirectionally related both for risks and treatment. Further understanding the neuropsychiatric pathology and different effects of different types of injuries will likely improve the implementation of effective treatments for each of these two conditions.

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