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Brain Injury and Addiction

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In Canada, there was a conference where Dr. Garbor Mate investigated the medical literature around brain injury and addiction. He was hoping to find information about brain injury leading to addiction; however, he found that addiction was present before a brain injury. Mate reports, “Brain injuries happen mostly to young men and they tend to have a history of substance abuse. When you look at the literature you’ll find drug use tends to predate the injury.” (2012) A brain injury will usually encompass problems such as learning disabilities, speech problems, and behavioral and cognitive dysfunction. Looking at preventive measures for brain injuries, Mate proposes that preventive substance abuse measures should be put into place starting from a young age. He explored a population of prisoners and found that in those who were brain injured, there was a pattern of risk-taking behaviors which contributed to early drug and alcohol use. He examined their family history and notes that most of the incarcerated individuals came from abusive or neglectful homes. He states that in those environments drugs and alcohol prevention was not a priority. Lastly, Mate proposes that the behavioral problems that brain injured people present with are being treated like simple behavioral issues rather than underlying brain injury. If brain injury and substance abuse are correlated, those prisoners should be sent to drug rehabilitationto get help vs. prison. It seems that whether there is a brain injury or not, drug addicts in our prison systems would benefit more from drug rehabilitation vs. prison time alone.

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