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DVBIC Podcast Looks at Substance Use after TBI

Bottle of liquor.
Photo courtesy of II Marine Expeditionary Force

Army Capt. Daniel Hines knew something was wrong with his friend. Normally a model soldier and enthusiastic recruiter for the Army, the friend was now complaining of burnout, acting irritable and getting into bar fights.

“If there hadn’t been an intervention, I believe he would have just spiraled out of control,” Hines said. “He would have been arrested; he would have ruined that stellar career he had.”

Hines’ friend had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) following several blast exposures. He began struggling with TBI and substance abuse. This dangerous combination was the focus of a recent episode of The TBI Family, a podcast series by the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC).

TBI is a risk factor for substance abuse, especially among those who were heavy drinkers prior to an injury, according to Lars Hungerford, a senior clinical research director for DVBIC. Alcohol use can put service members recovering from TBI at a disadvantage. Drinking can hamper the brain’s healing process and make the symptoms of a TBI worse. This in turn can lead to more drinking in an effort to manage the worsening symptoms.

“It's this vicious cycle where you've got an inflammatory process in the cerebral cortex, which … amplifies alcohol use,” said Hungerford.

A TBI can also disrupt production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that among other things affects motor control and reward-motivated behavior. Your body relies on dopamine production to know when your actions are affecting you negatively, Hungerford said. When that production is unbalanced, you may have trouble identifying which habits harm you.

“You're gaining weight, you're constantly late to work, getting yourself into trouble, and your wife is getting ready to leave you,” said Hungerford. “You're not picking any of that stuff up because your brain isn't working properly.”

Ezra Aune, a regional program manager for DVBIC, said that early identification of the issues, both of TBI and any substance use issues, can improve the odds of a more successful recovery from the injury.

Service members and their caregivers need to stay alert to other issues, such as drinking, that may be present along with a TBI.

“A sober-support network [along with] addressing the substance-use piece within the context of, ‘I'm trying to let my brain heal’ will really improve that prognosis,” said Aune.

If you or anyone you know has experienced a TBI, the DVBIC website has resources to help you cope, seek help and recover. If you are struggling with alcohol abuse, and don’t know where to turn, the DCoE Outreach Center can help you find resources in your area. Call 866-966-1020, email the Outreach Center or live chat with an Outreach counselor.


Comments (4)

  • Drink may consitute a further causes of TBI, as excessive drinking may cause gastric and gut damages, making them unable to assimilate thiamine, that is vitamin B1, whose loss drive on time to Wernicke-Korsakoof syndrome, a phsichiatric one that disrupt brain and also cause cardiac health problems. On this manner excessively drink not only worse TBI manifestations and expressions, but also cause directly a syndrome that make us unable to serve. It is what we want not and desire not, buddies. Acting on dopamine and neurotramitters drink also act on stress, exacerbating it and a higher stress may cause brain atrophy. A situation that we may avoid, we must avoid drinking on right manner, for, it is sure, we are born for serve and sacrifice for and our aim is make us able to accomplish our mission, to make what we are born for. Excessif drink may also cause car incidents, further causing a loss of our lucidity, a fundamental one of us and our mission, and make us unable to act. Since more is what we have to loss,is not our right way that of moderately drink and live the life we have choiced? Surely is and we has toward ourself the obbligation to be men who, having on their hands the defence of country and people, must not compromise their ability, their professionalism, must not compromise thierself anf their willingness. It is an imperatif, a hig imperatif.

    • Thanks for your feedback Claudio!

  • I am not suffering from substance abuse but, I have trouble coping with people. The only friend I have is my wife which is a great thing for me. I have a really hard time trusting people because I feel they are always looking for something. Also I get angry real easy, I also tend to get road rage if my wife (care taker) is not with me. I work by myself and do not socialize very often at all unless my wife is with me. I get real anxious with a lot of people around that I don't know. Is there any help, No More Medication!!!

    • Stephen, it shows great courage and strength to ask for help. Call the 24/7 DCoE Outreach Center at 866-966-1020. It's free and confidential Trained specialists can point you to helpful resources in your area that can help. If you don't find the help you are looking for, please send us an email:

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This page was last updated on: September 14, 2017.