Teens With Traumatic Brain Injury More Likely to Use Meth

By Victoria Kim 12/03/14

Teens with a history of TBI also reported higher rates of cocaine, ecstasy, and opioid painkiller use.

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Teens who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) are almost four times more likely to use methamphetamine than those without a history of TBI, according to a recent study.

Researchers interviewed 6,383 Ontario students between grades 9 and 12, and found that in the past 12 months teens with a history of TBI said they were 3.8 times more likely to have used crystal meth.

These teens reported drug use rates two to four times higher than peers with no history of TBI. They were 2.8 times more likely to have used ecstasy, 2.7 times more likely to have used non-prescribed opioid pain relievers, and 2.5 times more likely to have used cocaine.

“Overall, a teen with a history of TBI is at least twice as likely as a classmate who hasn’t suffered a brain injury to drink alcohol, use cannabis, or abuse other drugs,” said Dr. Michael Cusimano, co-principal investigator of the study and a neurosurgeon at St. Michael’s Hospital. “But when you look at specific drugs, those rates are often higher.”

The study, which was published in the Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation, defined TBI as “any hit or blow to the head that resulted in the teenager being knocked out for at least five minutes or spending at least one night in the hospital due to symptoms associated with the injury.”

Although the link between TBI and substance use is notable, researchers were not able to determine which came first, brain injury or drug use.

“This data shows us that there are important links between adolescent TBI and substance use,” said Dr. Robert Mann, co-principal investigator of the study, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, and director of the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survery. “While we can’t yet say which one causes the other, we know this combination of factors is something to watch because it can have a serious negative impact on young people as they develop.”

Mann said the next step is to “pinpoint when and how this relationship starts.”

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