Autism and Addiction

A bottle of Baileys and a cup of Baileys

Interestingly, studies have found that Autistic individuals and those with autistic traits are no more likely to drink than people who are not Autistic, but that those who are Autistic were more likely to become addicted.

A study in Sweden found that  autistic individuals are more than twice as likely to become addicted to alcohol or drugs if they have an average or above-average IQ.

The risk was found to be higher for people who also have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).

The study itself analised national health registry records in Sweden  and looked at the link with addiction in the 26,986 people diagnosed with autism out if the 1.3 million Swedes  born between 1973 and 2009.

Earlier studies did not take into account those individuals on the spectrum with a higher IQ which is why findings were different in the Swedish study to past studies, as it is these individuals who are most at risk of addiction.

Whilst studies have generally covered drug and alcohol addictions. There is obviously also a risk of other addictions. 

So why are these individuals at risk of addiction?

People on the spectrum have a risk of having additional mental conditions such as depression, OCD or anxiety, it is these conditions that often lead people to turn to alcohol or substance use. Paired with the fact that Autistic people are more likely to stick to something and do it over and over again, there is a chance this could lead to addiction.

In general, because alcohol or drugs can make people feel more sociable and less self conscious, those who feel alone or struggle with social situations seem to be more prone to substance abuse. This is also a factor as to why Autistic people may be more at risk of addiction.

What can be done to safeguard against addictions?

The best way is to deal with the underlying causes. To treat any depression or anxiety and to make sure we look out for those on the spectrum, making sure they don’t feel alone or alienated.

For self care it is important that those with ASD are aware of the dangers of addiction and misuse and are careful, avoiding illegal substances and limiting their alcohol intake to recommended safe levels.

A bottle of Baileys and a cup of Baileys with the words

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Published by Autism Kids on Tour - Autism without limits

I have two kids and love to show them the world. We dont let autism limit us in our adventures! I write about our adventures and include tips on how suitable activities were for children with autism. I also write more autism specific posts.

20 thoughts on “Autism and Addiction

  1. Great tips and this is such an important article to share. They world of an autistic person is already so tough so anything we can do to make it easier is a bonus!

  2. It makes sense that someone who is on the spectrum who is already prone to mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are also prone to addiction because they use repetitive behaviors as a security blanket. I didn’t realize that the same would be applicable to those with ADHD as well? Why do you think this is?

    1. There is some thinking that its to make up for the lack of dopamine, as they have lower levels of it than people who don’t have ADHD. Possibly the imulsivity and disregard of consequences that often go with ADHD wont help. There are probably other reasons.

  3. While I don’t have a child with autism, I do have a child who was an addict from the time he was 15 until age 22. To say those years were hell is an understatement. He had many of the conditions that addicts have: ADHD, anxiety, depression, poor social skills, and therefore, medicating himself (with anything) was a result. In our case, and by the grace of God, there was a light at the end of the tunnel and he’s been drug-free for over two years, has a job, and a family. But it never would happened unless, like you said, he took the time to treat the things that were eating him on the inside. Great post and food for thought. x

  4. Wow I never knew of the higher risk for those with Autism. Thank you including the studies because I’d like to show them to family who have autism individuals. This would definitely help them become better informed.

  5. This is such an important article and something that is not written about enough! Thank you for sharing a topic that a lot of people are uneducated on. Great post!

  6. This is a hugely important post to be out there. Thanks for spurring discussion and awareness!

  7. A very interesting read. My cousin who has severe autism I would never expect to drink, but I have a nephew whos Autism is not so server, makes me thinking about addiction in a different light and something I will be keeping an eye on.

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