Woman drinking water to show the importance of hydration for athletes

If you have a concussion, drinking caffeine or alcohol, or using illicit drugs, can play havoc with your recovery.

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Concussion Recovery

A concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that makes the brain highly sensitive and vulnerable to the effects of these substances, explains Alicia Sufrinko, PhD, a clinical neuropsychologist with the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program.

“Alcohol and illicit drugs — from marijuana to opioids and psychedelics — particularly affect the body’s central nervous system. Although we don’t yet have well-controlled studies, we do know that some drugs damage or kill brain cells, which may make recovery from concussion take longer or make it more complicated,” she says. They can impact your judgment, balance, and coordination, putting you at increased risk of falls and other injuries — including further head injury.”

Some important facts you should know:

  • High levels of caffeine can cause dehydration and disrupt your sleeping patterns, both of which can affect your recovery. Caffeine can be found in coffee, tea, sugary energy drinks, some sodas, and even chocolate.
  • Use of alcohol and illicit drugs may increase your risk of developing depression. In the first year after injury, brain injury patients are eight times more likely to develop depression. Both drugs and alcohol can reduce the effectiveness of anti-depressant medication, too.
  • Alcohol and illicit drugs can magnify the cognitive problems often caused by a concussion. Issues with concentration, memory, problem solving, learning new information, and thinking can be heightened by their use.
  • Illicit drugs may have impure or unknown substances in them that can put you at risk. Street drugs are always dangerous and shouldn’t be used. That’s even more significant for those with a concussion.

“The bottom line: Limit your caffeine to your normal pre-concussion routine, unless it’s excessive, and don’t drink it late in the day. Alcohol is off limits until your concussion expert okays you to do so,” advises Dr. Sufrinko. “And while illicit drugs should always be avoided, that’s especially true during this important time of healing for your brain.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with drug addiction, please call the National Institute on Drug Abuse at 800-662-HELP(4357).

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.