Alcohol Use and Abuse after a Spinal Cord Injury
Alcohol is a drug that affects the brain and spinal cord. It is the most often used drug before and
after spinal cord injuries (SCI). A UW Health study showed that 57% of rehabilitation patients
between the ages of 16 and 34 were intoxicated at the time they were injured. This guide was
written to help you learn more about the harmful effects of alcohol on your body and your life
after an SCI
Bladder function is altered for up to 6 hours after you have been drinking. If the bladder isn’t
emptied, it can become swollen. If this occurs, you may need to have a catheter placed in your
bladder. Alcohol can also dehydrate you. This may lead to bladder and kidney infections as
well as low blood pressure.
There can be very harmful and severe side effects when alcohol and other drugs are combined.
The effect of the drug can strengthen, or the drug can last too long in your system. Sometimes
mixing alcohol with certain drugs (like phenobarbital) can even be deadly.
Alcohol tends to lessen your attention span. This can lead to poor self-care. You could be more
likely to ignore bladder and bowel needs. You might pay less attention to skin care and forget to
perform pressure relief techniques. You will then be at a higher risk for pressure sores.
The healing of your spinal cord can be impaired. Your balance and coordination worsens which
can increase the risk of falling out of your wheelchair.
Alcohol is high in calories, but it shouldn’t be used in place of food. It limits how your body
absorbs nutrients. Poor eating habits will delay the healing process.
Alcohol can prevent you from facing the challenges a spinal cord injury brings. It can also make
it hard for you to master these challenges. Your relationships with friends and family may be
altered as well.
For More Details
If you have concerns or questions about your alcohol use and how it may affect you, please talk
with your doctor. Your doctor can answer questions and provide more resources in a private
Your health care team may have given you this information as part of your care. If so, please use it and call if you
have any questions. If this information was not given to you as part of your care, please check with your doctor. This
is not medical advice. This is not to be used for diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Because each
person’s health needs are different, you should talk with your doctor or others on your health care team when using
this information. If you have an emergency, please call 911. Copyright © 9/2015 University of Wisconsin Hospitals
and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#5404