After the long, cold, dark months of winter, nothing sounds better than a spring break vacation somewhere warm and tropical. Sadly, spring break parties often mix with risky behavior for far too many young people, resulting in permanent injury. A study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) found that the average male student on spring break drinks up to 18 drinks per day. In comparison, the average female student drinks up to 10 alcoholic beverages per day. NIAAA estimates that around 1,800 college students die from alcohol-related injuries each year, the vast majority occurring during spring break, and the top cause being fatal vehicle crashes.
If your child or friend is planning for a wild spring break vacation this spring, show them how much you care by having a serious conversation about drug and alcohol use risk factors. As March is also traumatic brain injury (TBI) awareness month, such discussions are crucial to lowering the number of people who suffer from TBI due to a motor vehicle crash, fall, altercation, or other accident.
What is TBI?
Traumatic brain injury occurs when a blow to the head disrupts normal brain function. The severity of a brain injury could range from mild to severe. In the case of a mild injury, a person may temporarily lose consciousness or experience a concussion. In more severe cases, the person may suffer permanent brain damage or face a lifelong disability. In the most devastating cases, a TBI could result in death.
What are the Leading Causes of TBI?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the cause of TBI varies based on patient age:
- Among children ages 0 to 17, 49% of TBI-related emergency department (ED) visits were caused by falls
- Among adults ages 65 and older, 81% of TBI-related ED visits were caused by falls
- Among all age groups, 17 percent of TBI-related ED visits involved being struck by or against an object; often, these are sports-related injuries or involve a physical altercation
- 20% of all TBI-related hospitalizations involve motor vehicle crashes
- 33% of all TBI-related deaths involve self-harm
Each year, around 2.8 million Americans are treated for TBI; however, healthcare providers and researchers believe that the incidence of TBIs is much higher, as not everyone receives medical care or even realizes that they have suffered a TBI, especially when it’s mild. Recently, as the media and healthcare organizations have helped to raise awareness of the long-term effects of TBI and its causes, more patients are seeking treatment if they suspect their head injury may be of serious concern. Further understanding of the habits and risks that can lead to accidental TBIs can help minimize cases each year.
The Dangerous Link Between Problematic Alcohol Use and TBIs
Studies show that between 30 and 50 percent of TBI cases occur when the patient is intoxicated. An even more significant number of intoxicated TBI cases involve motor vehicle accidents and assaults. In these cases, binge drinking—a typical behavior among spring breakers—is often the root cause of the path that leads to TBI, as those who consume more than five drinks in a sitting are more than three times as likely to suffer a trauma.
A too common scenario plays out as follows: a young person consumes far too much alcohol while partying, they get into an altercation—or worse, behind the wheel of a car—and end up with a traumatic brain injury, the lasting effects of which they may feel for the rest of their life.
Raising Awareness and Having Critical Conversations
One of the best ways to lower the number of people who suffer from TBIs each year is to raise awareness of the severity of the condition and educate young people about the risk factors that could lead to a life-altering injury or death. If your child or a loved one will be celebrating spring break and you fear they may participate in problematic alcohol use, talk to them about the risks of TBI. Help them understand that they can have fun without binge drinking. Encourage them to limit their alcohol consumption, alternate alcoholic drinks with water, always have a designated driver and know to seek medical care if a fall, fight, or recreation-related injury results in a blow to the head. Most importantly, implore your loved one never to drink and drive.
If you believe someone in your life needs help with alcohol addiction, talk to your Nova Health care provider, or visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Their free, confidential national helpline is available 24/7 at 1.800.662.HELP.