The Virtual Vine Blog

Insights and information about concussion health and a smarter recovery. Plus timely tips for your everyday well-being – from food and exercise, to meditation and mindfulness.

 Tags: Physical Health


The current state of the world is having an impact on many peoples’ lives, creating uncertainty and fear which is leading to increased levels of depression and anxiety. The seemingly perpetual waves of this pandemic and the associated adjustments of public health measures are having a tremendous impact on everyone, particularly on their mental health. 

These new pandemic measures have affected common activities, routines, and livelihoods of people that may lead to an increase in loneliness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, harmful alcohol, and drug use, as well as self-harm or suicidal behavior.

One particular area of concern is the excessive drinking many may be partaking in during this time, with little to no available activities throughout Ontario, people are faced with boredom, resorting to other means of entertainment. In certain situations, where work is limited, people with already existing substance abuse problems are indulging more, impacting their health in more ways than one.

Binge alcohol drinking is highly prevalent in young adults and is associated with 30% of deaths per year in young males. Binge alcohol drinking or acute alcohol intoxication is a risk factor for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD). Those who are already predisposed to AUD may be finding themselves in an unhealthy situation. As well as those who are suffering from other health issues such as PTSD, or TBI who may be inclined to mask the pain with alcohol, since it is so readily available.

The implications of substance abuse on your body and brain can create lifelong issues of substance dependence that result in health issues. We will explore this in more depth and see what preventive measures or recovery methods can be used to tackle this issue.

Substance Abuse Effects on Body & Brain

When exploring brain functionality of individuals who are dependent on alcohol, it’s important to review the neuropsychological sequelae of alcoholism. Substance abuse affects many areas of the body and brain resulting in various health concerns.

A recent study done by Frontiers in Neuroscience entitled, Alcohol Intoxication and Cognition speaks to the link between the effects of alcohol and brain activity stating:

“Positron emission tomography (PET) using radiotracers (e.g., 18FDG) and measuring brain glucose metabolism have demonstrated diagnostic and prognostic utility in evaluating patients with cognitive impairment. Using PET imaging, only a few exclusive human studies have addressed the relationship between alcohol intoxication and cognition. Those studies indicate that alcohol intoxication causes reduction in brain activity. Consistent with prior findings, a recent study by us showed that acute alcohol intoxication reduced brain activity in the cortical and subcortical regions including the temporal lobe consisting of the hippocampus. Additionally, we have observed a strong correlation between reduction in metabolic activity and spatial cognition impairment in the hippocampus after binge alcohol exposure.”

With alcohol being the most widely used form of substance abuse, it can be an easy method of coping with other issues, masking an even larger problem. While only 7% of the general population are heavy drinkers, close to half of the population consume alcohol on a regular basis. Excessive alcohol use is especially harmful to younger age groups.

When examining individuals with TBI, there is a link between patients who have AUD who continue (or restart) drinking after TBI. This results in worsening success of rehabilitation (long-term) for these patients versus those who do not rely on alcohol with TBI.

May Cause Problems In Brain Function

Researchers have been able to prove through brain imaging studies in alcoholics that memory, cognition, and emotional processing have been impacted by excessive alcohol consumption. 

There is a negative impact of excessive drinking on everyone’s health, but this is particularly true in the more fragile brain state after a TBI. Excessive alcohol intake can cause setbacks and delay recovery after sustaining a TBI such as concussion.

Impact On Mental Health

It’s no secret that there is a correlation between mental health and substance abuse, alcohol being a depressant can worsen one’s mental health, but make you feel as though it is helping. 

Research shows that 50% of people with mental health disorders are affected by substance abuse. Also, 53% of drug abusers and 37% of alcohol abusers have at least one mental illness. What’s more, 29% of people diagnosed with mental illnesses abuse alcohol and other drugs.


Substance abuse has a lot of hidden effects, the most common being depression, however, it can also have a physical impact especially after years of abuse. 

Long-term effects include damage to one’s liver, Cirrhosis malnutrition, and acute pancreatitis to name a few. 

It can also have a range of effects on the nervous system, and can contribute to alcohol-related neurological diseases listed below:

Alcohol's effects on the nervous system:

  • Neurotoxicity
  • Alcohol dependence syndrome
  • Alcohol withdrawal syndrome
  • Seizures
  • Cognitive deterioration, leading to Korsakoff's psychosis, Wernicke's encephalopathy, and Wernicke–Korsakoff syndrome
  • Progressive cerebellar degeneration
  • Acute confusional state
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Autonomic neuropathy

Alcohol use and traumatic brain injury (TBI) are inextricably and bidirectionally linked. Alcohol intoxication is one of the strongest predictors of TBI, and a substantial proportion of TBIs occur in intoxicated individuals.” Statistically speaking, studies have estimated that between 30-50% of patients who were treated for TBI were intoxicated at the time of injury.  The odds of suffering TBI while intoxicated more than triples the likelihood of suffering a future TBI. 

In some cases where an individual has TBI with no predisposition to alcohol abuse can find themselves drawn to drink alcohol as a coping mechanism or to manage symptoms of PTSD. “Overlapping neurobehavioral links among TBI, PTSD, and alcohol use disorder. TBI and PTSD share trauma as a precipitating event. They are also linked by dysregulation of stress response systems, cognitive impairments, and affective symptoms, which, together, can increase the likelihood of alcohol misuse.”

Numerous studies have investigated relationships between TBI, PTSD, and the link to AUD. There are very clear relationships between these conditions, but there are a number of overlapping characteristics of individuals with PTSD and TBI that can make drinking more likely. “For instance, the hyperarousal to stressful events that is central to PTSD pathology is unpleasant and can increase social withdrawal, thus exacerbating ongoing negative affect.”

TBI can make it more difficult for patients to manage these symptoms, increasing the likelihood that they will drink alcohol. Moreover, the cognitive impairments combined with decreased frustration tolerance that are central to both TBI and PTSD can increase the likelihood that daily difficulties will lead to drinking.”


It’s not always possible to prevent substance abuse, but there are mechanisms of action that can be applied and are offered through public education programs. Receiving help is the first step, healing is next. It’s important to note that rehabilitation can mend some of the pathological changes in the brain, and there are medical professionals and treatment opportunities to assist in this. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse, it’s important to seek treatment and go through the detoxification process. A medical professional can assist in evaluating and recommending steps on how to treat withdrawal symptoms through medication and other methods tailored to one’s needs. 

Recovery requires more than simply recognizing the issue and refraining from drinking too much. Addiction can be extremely challenging, and having supports and accountability to help along the road to recovery is essential. 

If any of this information resonates with you, please speak to a medical professional for more information.



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