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Associations between Traumatic Brain Injury, Drug Abuse, Alcohol Use, Adverse Childhood Events, and Aggression Levels in Individuals with Foster Care History

Cusimano, Michael D.; Zhang, Stanley.; Huang, Grace.; Wolfe, David.; Carpino, Melissa. – 2020

Nearly 50,000 Canadian children live in foster care. Compared with their peers, foster children experience greater independence and decreased guidance, predisposing them to harmful exposures such as traumatic brain injury (TBI), illicit drugs, and alcohol. Foster children also report a higher level of childhood abuse compared with the general population. This study aimed to: 1) investigate substance/alcohol use disorder, adverse childhood events (ACE), TBI, aggression levels, and the difference between normalized percentages of brain regions of interest (ROIs) in a sample of Canadian youths with and without foster care history; 2) determine the prevalence of substance/alcohol use disorder, ACE, and aggression levels within individuals with foster care history when stratified by likelihood of TBI; and 3) determine the significant correlates of elevated aggression levels within this population. Participants completed standardized questionnaires that measured the prevalence of TBI, substance and alcohol use disorder, ACE, and aggression. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to measure differences in brain ROI. Regression and network analysis were used to study interactions between variables. Seventy-four participants (51 individuals with foster care history and 23 age-matched controls from the general population) completed standardized questionnaires. Fifty-five of these individuals (39 foster participants and 16 controls) underwent brain MRI. Foster participants had higher prevalence of substance use disorder (p < 0.001), alcohol use disorder (p = 0.003), ACE (p < 0.001), and elevated aggression levels (p < 0.001) than healthy controls. No significant difference was found among brain ROI. The prevalence of TBI in foster participants was 65%. Foster participants with moderate or high likelihood of TBI exposure had higher levels of drug use and aggression than those with no or low likelihood of exposure. Brain volumes were not associated with substance/alcohol use disorder or ACE. No significant associations were found between aggression levels and the studied variables. (Author abstract)