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Substance Use


​​​​​​Substance use can affect your judgment, vision, and coordination. In fact, parts of the brain responsible for these functions are among the first negatively impacted by alcohol and other drug use. Because of this, people who use these substances are more likely to get hurt than people who don't. And as with any injury, it could affect you for the rest of your life.

Substance use increases your risk of injury

There are two ways people who use alcohol or other drugs are at greater risk for injury. First, they are more likely to get hurt because of how their judgment, vision, and coordination are impacted. Second, in the same situation, people who are impaired due to alcohol or other drug use are more likely to be hurt more seriously than if they hadn’t been using these substances.

Substance use makes it harder to diagnose an injury

An injury may be harder to diagnose when a person has been using substances. For example, slurred speech or poor memory from drinking alcohol can look like the symptoms of a serious head injury. This can make it difficult for health care providers to determine the extent of a person’s injuries.

Repeated injuries can be a sign of problematic substance use

Not everyone who uses alcohol or other drugs sustains an injury or gets hurt, but for some people, repeated injuries can be one of the signs that their substance use has become a problem. Sometimes family, friends, a family doctor, or emergency department staff will notice a relationship between a person's injuries and their use of alcohol or other drugs. They may ask the injured person about their use, and/or encourage that person to get treatment for their substance use.

Violent injury and substance use

Injuries caused by violence are the most common type of injury seen when alcohol is involved. Alcohol affects how your brain works, impairing your judgement. For some, alcohol can increase aggressive behavior. Others may be more likely to be victims of violence.

Accidental injury/death and substance use

Motor vehicle crashes, snowmobile accidents, fire injuries, drowning, and falls often involve alcohol or other drugs. Transportation Alberta has evidence that if a driver has been drinking alcohol, the chance of being in a deadly collision is one in five. Drinking and driving affects everyone. Many people have family or friends who were injured or killed because of drinking and driving.

Brain injury and substance use

Studies show that between 35 and 50 percent of people in emergency rooms with a traumatic brain injury had a history of alcohol or other drug use. Young, unmarried men are at the highest risk of a brain injury and also the most likely to have problematic use of alcohol and other drugs. People who use alcohol or other drugs after a brain injury may not recover as fast or as well those who didn’t use while they recovered.​

Current as of: October 3, 2022

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services