“People with juvenile head injuries are already at risk for memory problems, difficulty concentrating, poor learning, and reduced impulse control. If we can prevent alcohol misuse, chances for a good life are much better… There is some evidence that if you have a brain injury, you’re more likely to drink.”
~Zachary Weil, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience at Ohio State University and the lead author of the study
A strong link between traumatic brain injuries and alcohol has long been accepted among those who study addiction science. A new study postulates that girls who suffer concussions or other closed-head brain injuries are at a greater risk to abuse alcohol later on in life. They also tend to make a greater association between drinking, pleasure, and reward.
Interestingly, this effect is not seen in males who have suffered the same sort of injury.
The study, which was released in the Journal of Neurotrauma, may represent the first time that researchers have tried to categorize the time of the initial injury and the difference between the sexes.
During the experiment, 21-day-old mice – which equates to between 6 and 12 years of age in humans – were given a concussive brain injury and then allowed to choose between drinking plain water and water containing gradually-escalating amounts of alcohol.
Female mice with the injury drank the alcohol solution much more often than those mice without injuries. Again, there was no appreciable difference between injured versus uninjured male mice.
The implications of this study are particularly worrisome, because there are two segments of the American population where the rate of occurrence of traumatic brain injury is increasing – elderly adults and YOUNG WOMEN.
There IS some good news, however.
Professor Weil explained, “…this effect is not set in stone at the time of injury. There are ways to intervene… It requires sustained treatment and rehabilitation and educational support.”
When the female mice were placed in an “enriched environment” – one that had more options for diversion, such as toys and exercise apparatus like bigger cages, tunnels, and running wheels – the increased drinking was blocked.
Even more encouragingly, axon damage in the female mice’s brains was reduced by approximately 40%, in the enriched environment compared to those mice that were housed normally. Axons are the long threadlike part of a nerve cell along which impulses are conducted from the cell body to other cells.
Preventative stimulation during the aftercare given following a head injury seems warranted. “The best therapy for a childhood brain injury is everybody getting great medical care and rehabilitation, regardless of socioeconomic status”.