Is It Okay to Drink Alcohol With a Concussion?

Recovering from a concussion takes time, so understandably, you might start thinking about drinking while you wait to heal.

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Concussions are a common type of injury that occurs after any damage to the head. Recovering from a concussion takes time, so understandably, you might start thinking about drinking while you wait to heal. However, drinking alcohol with a concussion is a very bad idea. To understand why it’s dangerous and find out how long you need to wait before drinking again, it’s helpful to learn more about how concussions affect your health and the effects of alcohol on your body.

Understanding How Concussions Affect Your Brain

Concussions are a type of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that’s caused by physical trauma to the brain. Concussions frequently occur after people get punched in the head, fall down and hit their head, or have a car accident that violently shakes their head around. Any time your head is jarred with enough force to stretch, twist, pull, or bump brain tissue, you can end up with a concussion.

From a physical perspective, a concussion causes reduced blood flow, excessive neuron firing, imbalanced neurotransmitter chemicals, and impaired neurotransmission. This results in a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Physical symptoms: People often feel dizzy, nauseous, loss of consciousness, or tired. They may experience headaches and ringing in the ears, and some people have blurry vision. Sensitivity to light or noise is common, and some patients have insomnia.
  • Cognitive symptoms: Concussions make it hard to focus and remember things. Some people may feel like they’re walking around in a fog or feel like it takes longer to think about things.
  • Emotional symptoms: Many experience emotional instabilities, such as irritability and sadness, after a concussion. In some cases, depression and other mood disorders can also occur.
  • Functional symptoms: Some patients may struggle with things like coordination and communication. In severe cases, unconsciousness or seizures may occur. Loss of smell or taste can also occur among some patients.

Concussion symptoms often develop slowly and last for a while. Even if a person feels fine right after bumping their head and suffer a head injury, they can still have a concussion. On average, it takes seven to 14 days for acute concussion symptoms to resolve. However, patients can still have lingering symptoms for months after a concussion.

Ways Alcohol Impacts Your Brain

A lot of the symptoms of alcohol use, such as slurred speech, poor memory, and trouble sleeping, are similar to the symptoms of a concussion. However, behind the scenes, alcohol is affecting your brain in many different ways. One of the most noticeable ways that alcohol impacts your brain is by changing neurotransmitter levels. Imbalance amounts of GABA, adenosine, glutamate, and other neurotransmitters cause issues like decreased caution and increased emotional responses. Even a few sips of alcohol start interfering with usual brain activity.

Substance abuse with alcohol is a type of neurotoxin, so it also directly harms the cells of your brain. Using alcohol disrupts communication between cells of the brain. Repeatedly drinking large amounts of alcohol can also kill brain cells and stop your brain from regenerating tissue. Long-term alcoholics end up losing so much brain tissue that their brains are noticeably smaller than non-drinkers.

Finally, alcohol harms your brain by affecting the rest of your body. When your body is processing alcohol, it uses up certain vitamins and fails to absorb others. Many alcoholics end up with serious malnutrition, which affects brain function, causing worsening conditions like mild traumatic brain injury and other brain damage that could be affect cognitive function or life-threatening one. Some may develop Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome which is a type of dementia caused by severe vitamin B1 deficiencies.

Why It’s Dangerous to Drink With a Concussion

Due to the ways alcohol and concussions impact your brain, combining the two can be very dangerous. Drinking during concussion recovery puts you at risk for these issues.

Slower Healing Times

The main problem is that alcohol makes it hard for you or your family member’s brain to heal. To undergo a recovery process from this situation, a concussion patient’s brain needs to send nutrients to damaged areas and repair injuries. However, alcohol is neurodegenerative and directly harms brain cells. So if you drink while recovering from a concussion, the alcohol undoes a lot of your body’s hard work. Patients who drink with a concussion tend to take longer to fully recover.

More Problematic Symptoms

Another issue with alcohol is that it exacerbates concussion symptoms. When your brain is already dealing with a lot of imbalanced neurotransmitters from the concussion, adding more disruption from alcohol makes the whole situation worse. For example, having a concussion already increases your risk of seizures, and alcohol consumption affects GABA levels and further increases seizure chances. Alcohol also increases your risk of depression and enhances problems related to memory loss and difficulty concentrating.

Higher Sensitivity to Alcohol

Many patients with concussions report that they feel more sensitive to alcohol after their injury. Even those with a high alcohol tolerance may find that one or two drinks are enough to make them feel extremely drunk. This can be a problem because alcohol impairment is quite risky. Patients with concussions can easily underestimate their level of drunkenness and end up doing unsafe things and impulsive decision-making, like driving while impaired.

Further Risk of Injury

One of the most essential parts of concussion recovery is avoiding further injury. Since the brain is already damaged, even a small fall or light bump to the head can result in another, far more severe concussion. Therefore, neurologists often recommend patients avoid all physical activity in the weeks after their concussion. Since alcohol often causes reduced inhibitions and coordination issues, it’s very risky. Patients can end up tripping, falling, or bumping into things, and that can further harm the brain.

Concussions and Alcohol

Safety Guidelines for Managing a Concussion

If you suspect that you have a concussion, the most important thing to do is consult with your doctor right away. They can assess your situation and provide you with personalized advice. Depending on your situation, you might need medication or other treatment.

Usually, your doctor will recommend that you abstain from alcohol during recovery. The general standard of care for concussions includes avoiding alcohol, getting plenty of rest, and taking a break from exercise. Patients should only drink alcohol if they are so dependent on alcohol that their doctor has said it will be unsafe to stop using it abruptly.

How long do you need to wait before drinking after a concussion? To be safe, you shouldn’t drink until your doctor clears you. If you want the best recovery possible, you should not have alcohol until all your symptoms are completely healed. For most patients, this will mean waiting at least two weeks to drink after having a concussion. In some cases, you might need to wait a month or even longer before drinking.

We Provide Valuable Support During Concussion Recovery

Concussion recovery is often an ongoing process. Not only do you have to change your routine and think about what you eat and drink, but you also have to deal with a lot of surprising and unsettling symptoms. For many people, it can take quite a while for them to feel like they are back to their old selves again.

During this time, it’s important to get all the support and care you can. Many people find it helpful to be upfront about their health problems, so their friends and family can provide assistance. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Things like a loved one picking up groceries or a therapist scheduling a session to talk about your concerns can make a big difference.

A concussion can be a stressful, scary time, but it is important to avoid using alcohol. Not only does alcohol slow your recovery, but the concussion also makes alcohol consumption riskier. If you find it hard to abstain from alcohol during concussion recovery, your concussion might also be a good time to rethink your relationship with alcohol.At Live Free Recovery, a healthcare provider, we’re dedicated to helping our patients enhance their mental health and avoid risk of further injury. Our compassionate, highly-trained professionals can give you the support and advice you need to improve your well-being. If you’d like to learn more about our services, contact our team today.


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