Concussion, traumatic brain injury, and TBI are all words to describe the same thing; a hard blow to the head which rattles the brain. It was once an injury expected among football players (hence the helmets) but not really so much to be found among teens in general. Now, thanks to new research in Canada, we are learning that not only athletes, but teens who use drugs or drink alcohol also face a heightened risk for head injury.
The Ontario-based study questioned close to 9,000 high schoolers. Created by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health in Canada the survey was initially developed to track teen drug use but has broadened over the years to include information on general health. In 2011 the survey included questions about concussion/TBI (traumatic brain injury).
Shocking Number Of Teens Experiencing Head Injuries
The survey of students in grade 7 through grade 12 found that one out of every five (or 20 percent) of students reported having sustained at least one traumatic brain injury at some point in their life. Close to six percent said they had experienced this type of brain injury within just the past 12 months. According to the survey, more than 63 percent of injured students were male athletes and 46.9 percent of them were female athletes. Interestingly, one concussion expert in Houston, Texas noted that 90 percent of head injuries on the athletic field do not render teens unconscious.
Link Between Substance Abuse And Head Injuries
Another surprising finding was how much at risk for concussions were teens who drank alcohol or smoked marijuana. Teens who drank 40 plus alcoholic beverages within the last year increased their odds of having a brain injury five fold over peers who never drank. And teens who smoked marijuana 10 times or more during the previous year faced more than triple the risk for traumatic brain injury compared to non-pot-smoking teens.
The survey did not give insight into how the brain injuries occurred; only that the link between substance use and injuries existed. One obvious potential explanation is the lack of proper perception substance abuse causes. Teens who, because of drinking or smoking marijuana, feel disoriented, fuzzy-headed or unstable on their feet would naturally be more prone to accidental injury. The study does nothing to substantiate this, but it is well established that alcohol and drug use is associated with a higher rate of injury.
TBI’s Responsible For Half Of Disabling Or Deadly Injuries
Traumatic brain injuries in Canada are responsible for half of the teen disabling or deadly injuries there. Most experts feel that plenty more TBIs go unnoticed or unreported than was revealed by the survey, meaning that the problem is likely more widespread than realized. The researchers added questions about TBI to the 2011 youth survey in hopes of understanding potential connections between mental health, substance use and TBI among teens.
More study in this area is already in the planning stages. Experts commenting on the study say that given the scope of the Canadian study (limited to teens with hospital admittances or five minutes of unconsciousness) it is very likely that the problem is more prevalent.
Subsequent Risks Of Traumatic Brain Injuries
Understanding and preventing as many traumatic brain injuries as possible among teens is important since TBIs are so dangerous to the still-developing adolescent brain. The problem is that if a teen has one TBI, he or she is at an increased risk for more such injuries. Repeated traumatic brain injuries can lead to permanent brain damage. Teens who bang their head are vulnerable to reduced cognitive ability, physical harm, and mental health conditions including substance abuse.
Here in the U.S. our Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that upwards of 170,000 teens had been seen in hospitals for sports or activity related brain injuries. We know that substance abuse is bad for the brain, but now we know it is also puts teens at risk for serious head injuries as well. The Canadian research shows that teens who drink or smoke marijuana face a five times greater risk of suffering a serious brain injury compared to non-substance using peers.
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