Autism is becoming a more widely known and researched condition. This is due in large part to activism and an increase in the understanding and diagnosis of it. There are now around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. One thing that has come from this awareness is understanding more about how autism and alcohol use are linked.
It is essential to understand how a person with autism functions across all areas of their life, not just the ones majorly impacted by the condition. Although it is not as widely discussed, one study showed that the risk of substance abuse in people with ASD is double that of people without ASD. Sometimes these symptoms may lead the person with ASD to rely on a substance like alcohol to relieve anxiety, depression and sensory problems related to ASD.
To fully understand the link between autism and drinking alcohol, let’s first take a look at what autism is. Autism is developmental and is viewed on a spectrum. This means that there is no one type of autism, but many symptoms that a person can demonstrate and many levels that their life can be impacted. Its official name, as a result, is autism spectrum disorder ASD. This includes conditions that used to be diagnosed separately, including people with autistic traits like Asperger’s syndrome. If they do start drinking, there is a tendency to repeat that behaviour, which puts them at an increased chance of alcohol dependence.
Thus a person with autism spectrum disorder can experience symptoms that may make them seem quirky. Or the other hand, they may experience symptoms that leave them incapable of caring for themselves independently.
Drinking can affect ASD symptoms. For example, poor social skills are a common symptom of ASD. Therefore, if someone with ASD has social anxiety and problems talking to others, drinking can make them feel more relaxed. A person on the autism spectrum share is diagnosed with three main components. These are social impairment, communication impairment, repetitive behaviours and limited interests.
Social impairment, in general, refers to the inability to understand or naturally learn social behaviours and cues. In some cultures, for example, during a conversation, people look one another in the eye. A person with the condition would not pick up on this and seem different or rude to another person talking with them. Communication impairment means they do not have, or cannot learn, enough communication skills to get their individual needs met.
Finally, repetitive behaviours are generally displayed as needing the same sorts of things, foods, or actions to take place; otherwise, the person with autism will struggle and act out. Although other behaviours are seen in people on the autism spectrum, these are the main diagnostic criteria.
The disease of alcohol addiction, clinical term substance use disorder, is one of slow decline over time. No one sets out to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, but eventually, with continued use and dependence, they find themselves needing the drugs just to function. Several different symptoms define substance use disorder. These symptoms fall under the categories of physical dependence, impaired control, social impairment, and risky use.
Physical dependence is when a person shows signs of addiction, like withdrawal symptoms or increased tolerance. Impaired control is when a person tries to quit or cut back their use but finds themselves unable to do so. Social impairment is the social cost of addiction, where the person gives up social activities to use. Finally, risky use involves using drugs in dangerous or unhealthy circumstances. A high-functioning addict has a common trait of suffering from social anxiety. Could any of these be undiagnosed autistic people? No one is sure.
Prenatal alcohol exposure is a principal reason for birth defects and neurological abnormalities. It can produce a range of developmental, cognitive and behavioural issues, which may be identified at any time in childhood. Fetal alcohol syndrome, or FAS, and autism are unrelated disorders that share some symptoms. Studies on autism and fetal alcohol syndrome show that children born to mothers who drank while pregnant are at risk for FAS. However, some studies regarding the moderate use of alcohol during pregnancy have shown that these children are not at higher risk for ASD. Symptoms that FAS and ASD have in common in some children include:
One of the central beliefs is that drinking or drugging is a means of coping with emotional or social problems. Reading the symptoms of autism, it’s easy to imagine why someone would use alcohol or drugs if they were struggling. Drugs change how a person thinks or feels, and it could be a fast and easy way to cope with feeling down. Autism and alcohol use may not seem like they are connected. More research, however, shows a significant risk of someone on the spectrum developing an addiction. There are more and more studies showing that link. There is no apparent reason why this exists, however.
Another possibility involves drinking or drugging as a means of shared social experience. Finding an easy way to have social connections may appeal to some people with the condition. If substance use is something that they can use to bond with others and not feel different or awkward, some may take this opportunity. This may not be the best or only reason, as some research indicates that those with the condition will more often drink or use drugs alone than with others.
However, ASD symptoms may not entirely disappear with drinking. Signs that someone who drinks heavily may have ASD include:
There is no known cause for autism yet. However, it is most likely it is caused by a genetic link, and this might have a connection to addiction as well. Substance use has a well-known genetic component, and it can be documented in family lines. This is probably a piece of the autism and addiction connection. They are likely not completely learned behaviour. This could be a function of who the person is on the genetic level.
Autistic people live well when they know themselves, their strengths and their weaknesses and are able to steer a path through a complicated social and unpredictable life without requiring to rely on alcohol. The goal of support, especially in a society where alcohol is regarded as a socially accepted tool, is therapy. It does not mean that a person with the genes for autism and addiction is just going to remain that way forever.
Treatment exists that can help them learn new ways of coping and managing stress and symptoms. For autism, there is a treatment to help them learn behavioural and social cues. Occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, as well as cognitive behavioural therapy help with obsessive thoughts and rigid behaviour patterns. These are generally preferred for treating this condition over medication, as there is no precise medication that alleviates the symptoms.
Addiction treatment falls along the same lines for people with autism. There is no cure for addiction, but people will learn ways to manage life without using drugs or alcohol. This will eventually lead to people not feeling the pull of addiction anymore after time and practice. Autism goes in mostly the same way. There is no cure, but people will learn to overcome the symptoms and deficits caused by the disorder. Rehab is open to people with autism and alcoholism, drug addiction, as well as those with other developmental delays. For those with alcoholism and autism, specialised treatment can help by providing guidance that fits with their own rules and personality.
Autism can cause many disruptions in a person’s life, mostly in their ability to connect with others. This may be a reason why too many are turning to drugs or alcohol. It may be merely a means to cope, and it eventually turns into an addiction. Drug treatment can help people who are struggling with drugs or alcohol. If you or someone you love are dealing with autism and alcohol use, help is available to you.
Call to speak with knowledgeable staff today on 02072052845 about treatment.