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Scope of the Problem

If you know someone who has problems related to drinking alcohol or other drug use, you're not alone. Each of the more than 12 million problem drinkers and alcoholics in this country have people in their lives who are personally affected by alcohol or other drug abuse. Because addiction touches so many lives, it's important to educate yourself about substance abuse. 

TBI & Substance Abuse

People with TBI have a very high incidence of alcoholism and chemical dependence issues (this does not mean that all, or even most, TBI survivors have these issues). There are several reasons for this. For many, the substance use may have contributed to their TBI, and they are at risk for subsequent injury if use continues. For others, substances offer an ‘excuse’ for behavior; one can blame lack of attention or memory, slurred speech, altered emotions, or unusual behaviors on the fact that s/he is ‘high’. 

Also, most people with TBI are in the age range where experimentation with substances is common. And, for many, drugs and alcohol offer a temporary escape from the nightmare of the “loss of self’’ that was caused by brain injury. At least for a time one can forget the catastrophe that has taken over one’s life. Many individuals with TBI turn to substance abuse as a means of coping with their losses. 

  • Substances include alcohol and other mind altering drugs 

  • Abuse involves continued use despite the consequences or recurrent use in situations when use is dangerous. 

  • Dependence involves impaired control of the use of the substance and the continued use despite the consequences. 
One major problem for people with TBI who use or abuse substances is the danger involved. Even if one isn’t on anti-seizure medication where alcohol or other substance use can bring on or exacerbate seizures, substance intoxication puts one in danger of accidents, and accidents can result in further brain injury. There is also the complication of people with TBI not fully realizing the impact their injury has had on them and therefore not acting safely when using mind altering substances. And, lastly there is the problem of some people with TBI not remembering their ‘limits’ and then overdoing their substance use.

Getting Help 

As is true with many of the other agencies and facilities listed in this resource guide, one type of program may work better than another for an individual. Many people, for example, have gained much from the 12-Step model (Alcoholics Anonymous, Cocaine Anonymous, etc.), while others benefit little from it. So be prepared if your client/self/friend doesn’t benefit from the first facility or organization s/he goes to. 

Substance dependence is treatable, although not always quickly and easily. With all that in mind, below are listed many of the organizations and facilities that offer some help in dealing with psychoactive substance abuse. Also included are references to articles addressing how alcohol affects recovery. Other resources prepare families to talk with the survivor about substance abuse.

Click here for Addiction Resources:

  • Regional Clearinghouses and Information centers in Washington State 

  • Regional Support Networks (RSNs) Services Information 

  • Recovery Services

  • Help Lines and Support Groups 

  • Publications on issues relating to Traumatic Brain Injury and addiction 


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