Concussion, sensation-seeking and substance use among US adolescents

Subst Abus. 2021;42(2):183-191. doi: 10.1080/08897077.2019.1671938. Epub 2019 Oct 22.


No large-scale epidemiological survey of adolescents in the US has assessed the association between lifetime history of concussion, propensity toward sensation-seeking, and recent substance use. Methods: This study assesses the association between lifetime history of diagnosed concussions, sensation-seeking, and recent substance use (i.e., cigarette use, binge drinking, marijuana use, illicit drug use, and nonmedical prescription drug use) using the 2016 and 2017 Monitoring the Future study of 25,408 8th, 10th, and 12th graders. Results: Lifetime diagnosis of concussion was associated with greater odds of past 30-day/2-week substance use. Adolescents who indicated multiple diagnosed concussions (versus none) had two times greater odds of all types of recent substance use, after adjusting for potential confounding factors. Adolescents indicating multiple diagnosed concussions also had higher adjusted odds of cigarette use, binge drinking, and marijuana use) when compared to adolescents who only indicated one diagnosed concussion. Accounting for adolescents' propensity toward sensation-seeking did not significantly change the association between substance use and multiple diagnosed concussions. Conclusions: This study provides needed epidemiological data regarding concussion and substance use among US adolescents. Exposure to a single diagnosed concussion is associated with a modest increase in the risk of substance use and this association increases with the accumulation of multiple diagnosed concussions. These associations hold when controlling for sensation-seeking. Substance use prevention efforts should be directed toward adolescents who have a history of multiple concussions.

Keywords: Concussion; adolescents; substance use.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior*
  • Humans
  • Marijuana Smoking*
  • Marijuana Use* / epidemiology
  • Sensation
  • Substance-Related Disorders* / epidemiology