Alcohol Related Brain Injury: ‘The Invisible Condition’

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There are signs of an increasing trend in the number of people with Alcohol Related Brain Injury (ARBI), according to new research.

The soon to be launched study on Alcohol Related Brain Injury (ARBI), spear-headed by North West Alcohol Forum Ltd, also suggests that the condition is under-diagnosed within Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The study identifies the incidences of ARBI in the HSE North West (Donegal, Sligo, Leitrim) and Western Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland (Limavady, Derry, Strabane, Omagh & Fermanagh). It considers the current manifestations and presentations of ARBI, the key issues in diagnosis and treatment, best practice in other countries and areas for action in Ireland.

Eamon O’Kane, Director of NWAF, said “We undertook this research to try and evidence anecdotal experiences of ARBI in the border region.   What we have learned is that this is very much a hidden issue and that the lack of national awareness of the issue may be hindering identification and treatment for those affected. Our report highlights a series of best practice actions and recommendations that would improve the care of patients with ARBI.   These are based on best practice in Australia, Scotland, Wales and England.”

ARBI is challenging and costly to the health and social care system in terms of treatment and support. It is associated with non-traumatic brain injury brought about by factors leading to a degeneration of physical and mental well being.

The study notes how alcohol detoxification is managed pharmacologically emerges as a significant measure in preventing early alcohol brain impairment.

The complexity of ARBI makes assessment of the condition difficult. Heavy drinkers are not likely to know that they are acquiring problems due to impairment of insight and awareness and are therefore not likely to turn up in the health system until they become sick, although cognitive decline is likely to already have begun. There is no standard screening tool or policy approach to ARBI on the island.

Half of those with an ARBI can make a complete or significant recovery, whilst a quarter will make no recovery at all (A Fuller Life, 2004). Often, people with ARBI are placed in inappropriate care or accommodation settings. Improved outcomes depend on the individual having access to services including cognitive assessment especially neurophysiologists, occupational therapists, rehabilitation services and psychiatry and safe accommodations.

“Most patients do not have access to these multi-disciplinary teams, and for this very reason, creating and implementing a plan of action is imperative for proper recognition of, and treatment for, ARBI within existing systems,” concluded Mr O’Kane.

The study recommends a series of actions to raise awareness of the existence and needs of ARBI sufferers and progress national actions to improve the diagnosis and treatment of ARBI.

These recommendations along with the full report can be sourced from or will be downloadable in the coming days from