Research Snapshot: Strong relationship between traumatic brain injury, harmful drinking and mental health problems in young adults

What you need to know

Researchers looked at the relationship between traumatic brain injury, harmful drinking, mental health problems and roadway aggression among Canadian adults. They found that younger adults, especially men, were most likely to drink harmful amounts of alcohol, to have traumatic brain injuries, to be involved in roadway aggression and to have mental health problems.

 

This Research Snapshot looks at the article, "Traumatic brain injury and hazardous/harmful drinking: Concurrent and single associations with poor mental health and roadway aggression,” which was published in Psychiatry Research in 2019. Read it below or download the PDF.

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

What is this research about? 

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is defined as trauma to the head that causes the person to lose consciousness or be hospitalized overnight. Research shows that two-thirds of adults with TBI are harmful drinkers, meaning they drink harmful amounts of alcohol. As many as half of them say they were injured while intoxicated and continued to drink heavily after their injury.

Harmful drinking both contributes to and is a consequence of TBI in adolescents and adults. TBI can cause a wide range of functional changes to thinking, sensation, language and emotions, among others, and may also affect many aspects of a person’s well-being. Research suggests that older adults, teens and males are most likely to have a TBI.

In this study, researchers sought to understand the relationship between TBI, harmful drinking, and mental health problems in the Ontario adult (aged 18 years or older) population.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers analyzed Ontario data from the 2011 to 2013 Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Monitor survey. They focused on questions about drinking behaviours, TBI history and mental health (including suicide attempts and roadway aggression). They categorized the 6,074 participants into the following three groups:

1. those who had both a history of TBI and harmful drinking

2. those with a history of TBI and no harmful drinking

3. those with no history of TBI and harmful drinking

What did the researchers find?

Almost one in eight adults had a history of TBI but no harmful drinking, one in 10 were harmful drinkers with no history of TBI, and one in 37 adults had a history of TBI and harmful drinking. There were more men than women in the four groups, especially in the group that had both a history of TBI and harmful drinking.

Younger adults were significantly more likely to drink harmful amounts of alcohol than those who were 55 years and older. Adults in any of the three categories were more likely to have mental health problems and roadway aggression. The findings show that TBI and harmful drinking, alone or together, are associated with negative health and behavioural outcomes.

Limitations and next steps

Since the study involved telephone interviews, it excluded people without a phone, those living in an institution or staying in a hospital, and anyone who did not speak English. The survey responses were based on participants’ self-reports, therefore it is possible that some participants may not have had full recall or may not have been entirely truthful. The next step will be to investigate these limitations.

How can you use this research?

These findings provide important evidence on the relationship between TBI, harmful alcohol drinking and mental health. They can be used to develop prevention and rehabilitation efforts that address harmful drinking, TBI and mental health problems.

About the researchers

Gabriela Ilie,1 Christine M. Wickens,2,3 Anca Ialomiteanu,2 Edward M. Adlaf,2,3 Mark Asbridge,1 Hayley Hamilton,2,3 Robert E. Mann,2,3 Jürgen Rehm,2,3 Robert Rutledge,4 Michael D. Cusimano5<<

  1. Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  2. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, Institute for Mental Health Policy Research, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  3. Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  4. Department of Radiation Oncology, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
  5. Division of Neurosurgery, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Keywords

traumatic brain injury, alcohol, hazardous/harmful drinking, mental health, roadway aggression, road rage

This Research Snapshot is based on the article, “Traumatic brain injury and hazardous/harmful drinking: Concurrent and single associations with poor mental health and roadway aggression,” which was published in Psychiatry Research in 2019. This summary was written by Maryan Warsame. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychres.2018.12.069