Q: How soon after a concussion can I start drinking wine?—Hal, Cresco, Iowa
A: A concussion is an injury to the brain that alters normal neurological function, and adding alcohol to the equation complicates matters. Concussions are caused by direct physical impacts to the head. In the case of severe impacts, such as from a car accident or a fall, the typical symptoms of headache, confusion and memory loss, impaired coordination, nausea and dizziness can make the injury fairly simple to diagnose. But with concussions caused by successive lower-impact blows, the sufferer may not be aware that neurological damage has occurred, and that's a potentially dangerous scenario for drinkers.
"The recovery process after a concussion is highly variable and you should carefully monitor your symptoms with the help of your physician," says Dr. Rocío Norman of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. "In addition, the timing of the recovery process is not straightforward; individuals can experience a quick recovery lasting two weeks or less or can experience symptoms for many years after the initial injury."
"One important fact to consider is that alcohol is a neurotoxin," she adds, "a substance that kills brain cells and crosses the blood-brain barrier, which is an impediment to the recovery process after brain injury. Furthermore, alcohol impairs our decision-making skills and can place an individual at risk for engaging in behavior that can place them at risk for further injury; cumulative injuries are not uncommon after concussion. Lastly, individuals with concussion are at high risk of developing depression, and alcohol is a depressant and can counteract with many anti-depressant medications."
Recovering from a concussion can take time and the healing process can differ greatly among individuals. Work closely with your physician to determine the best course of action.