Ask Kathy M. Archives
A Collection of Questions and Answers from TBI Advice Expert - Kathy Moeller

Topic: Social-Emotional - Drinking and TBI

Question:

Dear Kathy M.,

Hello Kathy. My name is Johnny my wife was in a car wreck in December of 1997. We have had some trouble, but my main concern is her drinking. It seems that she wants to drink more (than before) and I would like to understand why. She also seems to be depressed. I have not been able to find any answers. Could you send me some web sites that might help?

Thanks. Johnny


Kathy's Response:

Dear Johnny,

I'm curious, did she drink before the accident? Or drink "too much" (a lot, whatever).

There are lots of reasons why a person drinks (or drinks too much), whether they have had a brain injury or not. Some of these reasons could be related to the brain injury, others not.

After a brain injury, many people have difficulty with things like "appropriate judgment," depression, impulsivity, etc. If your wife is in this group, one or more of these things could be motivating her to drink (or drink more, whatever). Have you talked to her doctor about this? If not, that would be a good first step.

The good news is that people who have had brain injury can learn how to have better judgment and control impulsivity -- even though it may be more difficult than it was before the injury. As for depression, depending on the type of depression it is, either your MD or a good psychologist may be help her. Also keep in mind that alcohol is classified as a "depressant" so drinking could either be *causing* the depression itself or making any pre-existing depression worse.

An important thing to keep in mind if a person has had a brain injury, is that it may take a lot less alcohol to have an effect on them -- meaning that it could take less alchohol than it used to to make her feel giddy or even to get drunk! Also, I believe the medical community is in agreement that alchohol can trigger seizures in persons who have had a brain injury.

The rule of thumb I feel comfortable with is that drinking should probably be entirely ELIMINATED in your life, if you've had a brain injury. Frankly, I canot see any advantages to including alcohol in one's life, following a brain injury, and the risks appear to be many.

As far as depression is concerned, people who drink to make themselves feel better may be "self medicating" (as it is called) with alcohol. Even though alcohol is a depressant, some people think the "temporary high" is a good enough thing that they don't worry about the after-effect (which is often depression). I hope she isn't taking prescribed medications that are getting mixed with the alcohol! If so, I would contact your doctor IMMEDIATELY and let him know what's happening.

Besides calling your MD (which I would do even if she isn't mixing alcohol and medications), I would look in the phone book and find the list for AA or Alanon so you can start getting help/information for yourself about alcohol and/or alcoholism. You might want to go to Alanon meetings to meet other families, as well as talk to your MD about possibly doing what is called an "intervention" and get her into treatment (in-patient perhaps).

This business of drinking following a brain injury could be very, very serious (as in life-threatening). May I assume she no longer drives?

Hope this helps. I do not have any specific web sites for you, but if you want to join an internet family support list using e-mail, called ASSIST-TBI, let me know and I'll sign you up so you can talk to other family members about this and other issues related to a person's brain injury. Also, check out the national association, Brain Injury Association, Inc. and see what you can find on their website. The URL is www.biausa.org.

Thanks again for writing, and don't forget to call your doctor about all this!

Hope this helps,
Kathy M.

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