Teens with concussion history face higher risk of drugs, binge drinking

A doctor points to MRI scans of the brain. Julia Wong/Global News

TORONTO – There are the issues with learning and memory following a concussion, but new Canadian research suggests that teens who suffer from a traumatic brain injury are also at a higher risk of harmful behaviour.

Smoking marijuana, binge drinking and even contemplating suicide are some of the bad habits teens who have had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in their lifetime are at an increased risk of. It’s especially the case for girls, according to a St. Michael’s Hospital study released Tuesday.

“Both boys and girls were more likely to engage in a variety of harmful behaviours if they reported a history of TBI, but girls engaged in all 13 harmful behaviours we looked for, whereas boys were at higher risk of engaging in only in nine,” lead researcher, Dr. Gabriela Ilie, said.

“Sex matters when it comes to traumatic brain injuries.”

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READ MORE: Teens who have concussion face higher risk of self-harm, bullying

Her research looked at a string of health behaviours among more than 9,200 Ontario students between Grades 7 and 12. If the teens faced a severe head injury in the past, they were more likely to have smoked cigarettes, been bullied, contemplated suicide or have increased psychological distress.

The study is based on data from one of the longest ongoing school surveys in the world – the Ontario Student Drug use and Health Survey executed by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Ilie, along with her neuroscientist colleague Dr. Michael Cusimano, has published a handful of research on concussions. Cusimano has been studying brain injuries for decades.

In June 2013, she found that about 20 per cent of Ontario’s high school students say they’ve faced a brain injury so bad they were unconscious for five minutes or they had to stay in hospital overnight to recover, a new report shows.

READ MORE: One in five high school students suffered brain injury, study suggests

Turns out, boys, students with lower grades in school and those who drank or smoked marijuana within the past 12 months reported severe head injuries most.

It was sports such as soccer, hockey or skateboarding that made up the majority of causes of traumatic brain injuries.

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Last year, Cusimano’s decades-long study pegged hockey and soccer as the sports responsible for more than half of all head injuries in young Canadians playing organized sports.

READ MORE: Ice hockey makes up nearly half of all head injuries in young Canadian athletes

It was player-to-player contact in hockey and kicks to the head or head-on-head collisions in soccer that were to blame for these injuries that required trips to the emergency room.

Small measures, such as padding goal posts or introducing education programs to teach kids what to do if they’ve been body checked, could help lessen the prevalence of injury, Cusimano suggested.

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