Did you know about the links between concussion and alcohol use? This guide reviews why people who drink are at greater risk of traumatic brain injuries and how you can protect yourself.
What Is a Concussion?
Concussions are brain injuries that occur when someone hits their head or experiences whiplash or other injuries that rattle the brain inside the skull. The medical community is beginning to take concussions more seriously because of their long-term impact on neurological health if not properly monitored. You may not immediately notice you have a concussion, with some symptoms taking hours or days to manifest.
The most common symptoms you can observe to determine whether someone should be evaluated for a concussion after an injury include the following:
- The person feels that it’s difficult to think or focus, often describing the feeling as foggy or hazy
- You notice a change in their facial appearance or see that their eyes have difficulty focusing
- The person’s ability to respond to a simple question is diminished, and they have trouble recalling recent events, where they are or how they got hurt
- The injured person experiences symptoms of migraine, which include sensitivity to light or sound
- You notice unexplained changes in mood and disposition
Understanding Post-Concussion Vulnerability
The Centers for Disease Control and the National Library of Medicine both report that many concussions aren’t reported properly or go without treatment. Studies of high school athletes who experienced traumatic brain injuries indicated that less than half of athletes who sustained a concussion reported their injuries and received treatment. The CDC reported over 223,000 traumatic brain injuries that resulted in hospitalization in 2019 and almost 65,000 deaths due to a traumatic brain injury in 2020.
The reason many concussions go untreated is that the people who experience them may feel better soon after the injury and choose not to seek medical attention. Meanwhile, small blood vessels inside the brain may be damaged during the traumatic event that caused the concussion. The brain swells slowly over the following days and weeks, causing permanent brain damage.
Treating concussions early can prevent many neurological disorders that have been linked with past head injuries. The primary method for detecting a traumatic brain injury is to scan the brain to assess whether the brain is swelling.
Complications From Concussion and Alcohol Use
Extended alcohol use is linked to higher concussion rates and may make it more difficult for the brain to recover after an injury. Some studies have suggested that drinking alcohol may place you at a greater risk of experiencing a concussion or traumatic brain injury to begin with. People who have experienced concussions also notice that they’re more sensitive to the effects of alcohol on their brains long after their injuries have healed.
People with a history of concussions need to keep several correlations in mind.
Changes in mood and behavior are common symptoms of concussion, and many people who’ve been diagnosed with a concussion may experience depression at some point during their recovery. In some cases, they may be diagnosed with major depression and require medication for an extended period after their injuries.
Alcohol has also been linked to depression. It’s a depressant, so abusing alcohol can trigger depression. Alcoholism comes with an elevated risk of co-occurring depression. The medications prescribed for depression are also rendered ineffective when consuming alcohol, so doctors recommend abstinence from alcohol while treating depression.
Alcohol and concussions both impact the parts of the brain linked to motor function and memory. People who drink alcohol are at an elevated risk of sustaining their first concussion, but this risk becomes even greater after the first concussion. Concussion victims experience more severe symptoms due to alcohol’s impact on the parts of the brain that are damaged during the injury.
Alcohol abuse may result in permanent neurological disorders following a concussion. Studies have indicated that people who stop drinking following a concussion are more likely to recover without these permanent medical conditions than those who choose to continue drinking.
Alcohol interferes with many medications doctors may prescribe to help patients recovering from concussions. In some cases, these drug interactions can cause additional complications, while in other instances, alcohol reduces the efficacy of prescription medications. Continued alcohol use may also increase the risk of dependence on pain medications.
How Long Should You Wait Before Drinking After a Concussion?
While there are varying opinions over what constitutes the proper period before it’s safe to use alcohol following a concussion, the safest practice is to stop drinking completely until your doctor informs you that you’ve recovered from your injuries. In some cases, people begin drinking a week after they’ve experienced a concussion, but if the brain isn’t completely healed, they could experience dizziness, loss of motor function and poor cognitive function after one or two drinks.
Doctors recommend limiting other mind-altering substances during your recovery as well. This includes monitoring your caffeine intake due to how it impacts blood flow to the brain. Increased heart rate and blood flow can complicate the healing process if the brain is swollen.
When to See a Doctor
One of the biggest mistakes people make is refusing medical assistance after a blow to the head or possible concussion. It’s important to receive a physical evaluation if you experience any of the following symptoms after an injury to the head:
- Confusion or inability to focus
- Short-term memory loss
- Loss of consciousness
- Extreme headache that worsens with light or sound
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Pain in the neck or upper shoulders accompanied by tightness in the skull
The safest bet is to have a medical professional perform tests within the first day or two of experiencing a blow to the head and following the medical protocols they give you.
Treating Alcoholism Reduces Your Risk of Concussion
Due to the correlation between alcohol use and concussion, it’s important to address alcohol abuse early. Regaining control over your need for alcohol improves your odds of recovering from traumatic brain injuries without complications. Sunlight Recovery can help, and our team is ready to answer your questions and offer you the guidance you need to take the first steps. Fill out our contact form or call us at (888) 402-3647 to learn more.