Childhood traumatic brain injury is associated with risky behavior in adolescence and young adulthood

Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is the leading cause of morbidity and mortality among children and adolescents worldwide. Young people who suffer TBI may experience cognitive, psychological, and behavioral deficits. Although these symptoms may resolve within a year of recovery, long-term effects may not become evident until years after the initial injury. Adolescents who experience complex behavioral and emotional strains may be at particular risk for poor outcomes after childhood TBI.

A group of researchers in the United Kingdom investigated the relationship between childhood TBI and risk-taking behaviors in adolescence. Current research suggests that most adolescents exhibit increased risk-taking behaviors as a result of peer pressure, tendencies which may be compounded by the behavioral deficits associated with TBI. To identify the role of TBI in adolescent risk-taking behaviors, researchers conducted a literature review and identified six journal articles that met their research criteria. The included publications described outcomes in adolescents who sustained TBI between birth and thirteen years of age.

After analyzing the publications, researchers found that three of the studies supported an association between childhood TBI and substance use in adolescence. Another three articles described a relationship between childhood TBI and externalizing behaviors – including aggression, rule-breaking, and stealing – in adolescence. However, two of the articles did not support this conclusion.

Because the current research is inconclusive, further investigation is necessary to explore the relationship between childhood TBI and adolescent risk-taking behaviors. The researchers suggest that future research directions should include a combination of medical record analysis and self-report measures to ensure stronger evidence of TBI severity in children and adolescents.

Kennedy E, Cohen M, & Munafò M. Childhood traumatic brain injury is associated with risk behavior in adolescence and young adulthood: A systematic review. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (November 2017).

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