Alcohol use

Alcohol problems are common in the general population, but are even more common in people who experience head injuries. Around half of those who experience head injuries are intoxicated at the time of the injury, and nearly 40% of people suffering from a mild head injury have a chronic problem with excessive alcohol consumption. It shouldn’t surprise us that alcohol use increases the risk of having a head injury. After all, we know it affects balance and co-ordination, and we are more likely to do risky or dangerous things after having a drink. It is likely that one of the most effective ways to reduce the frequency of mild head injuries would be to reduce the amount people drink!

After you have had a mild head injury it is important to think about how much you are drinking and whether it could affect your recovery. Even small amounts of alcohol can interfere with learning new information, cause poor quality sleep and interfere with sexual function. Drinking more heavily can also lead to ‘gaps’ in memory, which can be especially worrying for people who have also recently had a head injury. Alcohol use can also lead to headaches and nausea (most obviously as a ‘hangover’), tiredness, irritability, impulsivity and anger outbursts, poor concentration and poor decision making. In fact, if you look at all the symptoms associated with mild head injury, most of these can be caused by alcohol! In addition, regular drinking is a very common cause of depression and though when we drink it feels relaxing, alcohol use is actually associated with a rebound effect as it wears off and overall increases anxiety symptoms.

When you combine the relationship between alcohol use and these symptoms with the fact that when we drink alcohol the immediate effect is to feel more relaxed, you can see how a vicious cycle can easily develop. A person who has had a mild head injury may find that when they drink it relaxes them and helps them get to sleep. These effects seem helpful and so they continue using alcohol. Rather than helping symptoms however this makes them worse, which results in increasing alcohol use and progressive worsening of their symptoms.

How much am I drinking?

Do I have an alcohol problem?

I think I have an alcohol problem, but don’t think I want to stop drinking at the moment

Strategies for drinking less out and about

Is there any help out there?

Watch this video of Professor Alan Carson talking about the relationship between alcohol and mild head injury:

Further Reading

DrinkAware – Provides information and resources on alcohol, the dangers of drinking and tips to cut down intake.

We are with you – Advice and online support for alcohol or drug use

Alcohol and You Self Help Guide – On the website of Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, a wide range of self help leaflets is offered. This one contains information on alcohol use, problems associated with it and ways to control your drinking.

Alcoholics Anonymous – Information, advice and support to help people recover from alcoholism.