The Link Between Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) in Veterans and Substance Abuse

traumatic brain injury (TBI) and substance abuse in veteransOur nation’s veterans dedicate their time and energy to serving our country and protecting our freedoms. Veterans suffer mental and physical harm from serving the US, with visible and invisible injuries.

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the most common injuries among our country’s veterans. A TBI can reduce a person’s quality of life, impair functioning, and lead to higher rates of depression and substance abuse.

This article will explore the connection between traumatic brain injury and addiction. If you or a loved one needs treatment for traumatic brain injury and substance abuse, you are not alone. Contact Alamo Behavioral Health for information on treatment programs or to schedule an assessment with our caring specialists.

What is a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)?

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an injury that occurs as a result of a blow or jolt to the head or body. People may sustain a TBI after a fall, being struck with something, or after an object (such as a bullet) enters the brain tissue.

There are degrees of traumatic brain injuries. Mild TBI may have a temporary impact on your brain cells and functioning. More severe TBI may cause physical damage to the brain cells that can result in long term effects or death.

What Can Cause a TBI?

A traumatic brain injury can occur after any blow or jolt to the head or body. Veterans are more likely to get a TBI during training and combat due to the physical demands of these situations. The Office of Research and Development in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs found that 185,000 veterans have been diagnosed with at least one TBI.

Here are some of the most common events that may cause a traumatic brain injury.


Falling from a height, such as a ladder, are among the leading causes of TBI. Children and older people have a greater risk of falling than the general population. Veterans may also be more prone to falls during training and combat.

Explosive blasts

Active duty military members have an increased risk for TBI because they can be exposed to explosive blasts. Research suggests pressure waves from explosions may significantly disrupt brain functioning and can cause injuries to the brain tissue.


Gunshot wounds and other assaults can lead to a TBI. Military members may also be at increased risk for violent motor vehicle accidents that can hurt the head and neck. They may also face blows to the head from shrapnel, collisions, or falls after an explosion or impact.

Veterans may return home from training or combat with a TBI. While you cannot see a brain injury, it can have a powerful effect on a person’s mental and physical well-being.

The Link Between TBI in Veterans and Substance Abuse

A substance use disorder (SUD) is a pattern of drug or alcohol use that can harm you or those around you. Mental health and addiction experts have linked drug and alcohol abuse to severe, sometimes life-threatening complications in people’s psychological and physical well-being.

Research suggests that there is a link between traumatic brain injury and a history of substance abuse. Although substance use disorders affect the general population at a rate of about 11%, between 37-66% of people with TBIs have reported struggles with substance abuse and addiction. The connection between TBI and substance abuse seems to go both ways: TBI increases the risk for substance abuse, and substance abuse can raise the risk for TBI.

People who abuse substances, especially alcohol, may face a higher risk for TBI if they engage in dangerous behaviors while intoxicated. People who drink or use drugs have higher rates of car accidents, falls, physical altercations, and other behaviors that can lead to injury. A person may sustain a TBI if they are intoxicated at the time of the injury and may not receive the timely treatment they need.

But a TBI is also a risk factor for developing a substance use disorder. Some of the symptoms of a TBI include:

  • Slow or sluggish thinking
  • Chronic headaches
  • Mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety

Living with these symptoms can be incredibly challenging. Veterans living with a TBI may feel frustrated or discouraged. They may have noticeable impairments in their daily functioning.

When veterans live with stress or challenges that overwhelm their ability to cope, they may turn to drugs or alcohol for relief. This is known as “self-medication”. Self-medicating with addictive substances can provide brief periods of comfort but may quickly develop into a life-threatening addiction.

Veterans living with traumatic brain injury and addiction require comprehensive, specialized substance abuse treatment programs.

Find Treatment for Traumatic Brain Injury and Addiction

Veterans living with TBI and substance abuse require compassionate, comprehensive treatment that can address the physical, emotional, and behavioral roots of their addiction. At Alamo Behavioral Health, we offer specialized treatment programs to help people overcome substance use and manage the symptoms of a TBI.

If you or a veteran in your life needs help, you are not alone. Reach out to the caring specialists at Alamo Behavioral Health today to learn about our Veteran’s rehab programs or schedule an intake assessment.

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