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The Surprising Relationship Between Childhood Traumatic Brain Injuries and Alcohol Abuse

traumatic brain injuriesTraumatic Brain Injuries (TBIs) have long been associated with alcohol consumption. In fact, research suggests that between 33 and 50 percent of all concussion victims were intoxicated at the time of their injury. Zachary M. Weil, Ph.D., assistant professor of neuroscience at Ohio State University, wanted to understand whether people who suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries as children were more likely to become heavy alcohol drinkers as adults, leading them to be involved in vehicular accidents. He recently led a study using mice to examine his hypothesis and published some fascinating results.

Weil and four co-authors concluded that “In females, childhood head injury could lead to alcohol abuse later in life.” The authors expressed surprise that childhood Traumatic Brain Injuries did not have the same effect on males. They plan to follow this study with another experiment to determine whether hormones play a part in why females are affected but males are not. They also found that the effects of this TBI-induced proclivity to abuse alcohol could be reversed if, after the child suffered an injury, she entered an immersive rehabilitation program that included many enrichment activities.

Injured Female Mice Misused Alcohol

Some of the mice used in the study received concussions when they were 21 days old – an age considered equivalent to human ages of about 6 to 12 years. Researchers then gave the mice the choice of drinking plain water or water combined with ethanol. They gradually titrated up the ethanol content of the water. The injured female mice “drank significantly more ethanol than uninjured mice.” The injured male mice were not affected.

They conducted additional tests and concluded that the problem with the females drinking more alcohol was related to the way “reward and pleasure is processed in these animals with regard to alcohol.”

Effect Reversed with Enrichment

Researchers place some injured mice in larger cages filled with toys, like tunnels and running wheels. Others remained in the standard cages without toys. The result: “The enriched environment had completely blocked the females’ increase in drinking.”

The study results concerned the researchers, especially since TBI rates among young women and the elderly have been increasing, according to recent data. Future studies along these lines will attempt to understand, bio-mechanistically, why females increase their alcohol intake after concussions, while males do not. The ultimate goal is to leverage this understanding to prevent alcohol abuse among female TBI patients.

If you suffered a TBI after a motor vehicular accident – such as a car, truck or motorcycle crash alcohol involving a DUI driver or distracted motorist — our experienced personal injury lawyers can help you understand your options and aggressively pursue fair compensation and justice. Please call us for a free consultation and speak with a personal injury attorney.



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