Every year, 3.2 million people will suffer a brain injury and a growing number of those injuries could be blamed on drug and alcohol abuse, according to doctors.
Brain scans and new testing protocols show substance abuse can damage your brain just as bad as a traumatic brain injury, according to Dr. Joshua M. Masino, director of neurological services of Enterhealth, a Dallas-based addiction treatment center.
The main area impacted can be the frontal lobe, which controls decision making and impulse control.
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"It helps frame this in a context that this is an acquired head injury that has led to some real difficulties that have to be managed," said Masino.
Hanna Fobare of Dallas was a thriving college athlete when she says one decision led her down a path of addiction.
"Impulsively, I made a decision to stop playing soccer and that's kind of when the vicious cycle started," said Fobare.
She fell into a life of alcohol and marijuana and then cocaine and prescription drug abuse, not knowing the ramifications it had on her brain health.
Brain injuries from substance abuse can happen more often than you think.
"With alcohol, at least 50 percent of the time, it does happen, so it's really a roll of the dice. With other substances, it's an even greater risk," said Masino.
But unlike traumatic brain injury, he says the brain, in most cases, can recover.
Fobare is two years into sobriety, but says it'll be about a year for her to regain full cognitive function.
"I really stuck to my treatment plan and that's what helped me," said Fobare.
Doctors say that understanding how drug abuse damages the brain does help patients and their families understand that addiction isn't a character flaw or moral failing, rather a long-term illness.