Health Information and Tools > Health A-Z >  Substance Use: Injuries
Facebook Tweet Email Share

Main Content

Substance Use


​Alcohol and other drugs 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 drug use. It’s no surprise that people who use these substances are more likely to get hurt than people who don't.

Even people who use alcohol or other drugs once in a while can hurt themselves—it’s not only people who are dependent on alcohol or other drugs. As with any injury, it could affect you for the rest of your life.

Substance Abuse Increases Your C​hance 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 negatively impacted. Second, in the same situation, people under the influence of alcohol or drugs are more likely to be hurt more seriously than if they hadn’t been intoxicated.

Substance Abuse Makes it Harder to Diagnose an Injury

An injury may be harder to diagnose when a person is injured while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Slurred speech or poor memory from drinking too much can look like the symptoms of a serious head injury. On the other hand, the doctor may smell alcohol on a person’s breath and think that the alcohol is causing the symptoms (e.g., poor balance), and miss the actual head injury.

Repeated Injuries can be a Sign of Substance Abuse

Not everyone who abuses alcohol or other drugs sustains an injury or gets hurt, but for some people, repeated injuries are one of the signs that they have a problem with alcohol or other drugs. Sometimes family, friends, the 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 help.

Violent Injury and Substance Use

People are more likely to hurt others on purpose, or have someone hurt them, if they have been drinking. Injuries caused by violence are the most common type of injury seen when alcohol is involved. Alcohol affects how your brain works, making you less likely to think of the consequences. Some people become more aggressive when they drink. Others are more likely to put themselves in risky situations, becoming victims of violence.

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, 12% of all people admitted to hospital with a major injury had a blood alcohol level (BAL) over the legal limit of 0.08 percent. In Alberta, drivers with a BAL from 0.05 to 0.08 immediately have their driver’s license suspended for 3 days. If it’s a first offence, their vehicle is seized for 3 days. For a second offence, the license is suspended for 15 days, and the vehicle is seized for 7 days; offenders will also have to take a course. Drivers with BAL over 0.08 face criminal charges, license suspensions, and having their vehicle seized. Drivers holding a graduated driver’s license are not allowed to have ANY alcohol in their system.

Accidental Injury/Death and Substance Use

Motor vehicle crashes, snowmobile accidents, fire injuries, drowning, and falls often involve alcohol or other drugs. Studies show that in Alberta:
  • 17.5% of drivers involved in fatal collisions tested positive for alcohol in their system
  • 40% of people with a serious injury tested positive for alcohol in their system
  • 44% of people who died accidentally tested positive for alcohol in t​heir system

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 abusing alcohol or other drugs. Young, unmarried men are at the highest risk of a brain injury and also the most likely to abuse 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: January 11, 2017

Author: Addiction & Mental Health, Alberta Health Services