April happens to be Autism Awareness Month, which seems like a perfect opportunity to share some new findings uncovered by The Atlantic. Traditionally, it is believed that those who suffer from autism (a developmental disorder that impairs the ability to communicate or interact) often shy away from drugs and alcohol. But as this recent article points out, that is not necessarily the case. In fact, people who are on the spectrum may be at a greater for a dependency, according to the data.
If you think about it, social anxieties and difficulty interacting can easily be catalysts for the escapism of addiction. But the traditional way of viewing this condition ties it to strict rule following, isolation and patterns that would steer a person away from using. Researchers in Sweden, however, are telling a very different story.
As Atlantic writer Maia Szalavitz explains in her piece, traits like high intelligence quotients and ADHD could play into a person’s desire to use.
“These two fields have really developed independently, but I think there could be a lot of cross-fertilization,” Szalavitz’ article explains. “This new study suggests that people with autism who have average or above-average IQs are more than twice as likely to become addicted as their peers are. The risk is even higher for people who also have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Truth be told, this study is the first to look at the general risk for addiction among people with autism.”
The study authors went on to emphasize that these findings reflect people with milder spectrum symptoms. This actually covers a large percentage of the autism diagnoses, with the minority being the severe cases that require hospitalization. It also takes into account those who are diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a category of higher functioning people with much greater access to drugs and alcohol.
It is also worth calling out that the research flagged parents and close relatives of those with autism. Caregivers in these scenarios often endure added stress in their daily lives, driving them to take part in habits like drinking or marijuana use.
And for those who are diagnosed as being on the spectrum, it is important to point that traits like impulsivity and compulsivity are common. In addiction, as we all know, those are primary traits as well.
The article ends with a discussion about the recovery process for people diagnosed with autism. This is certainly a sensitive area too, as those on the spectrum tend to have trouble with group therapy settings and 12-step programs.
We agree that a special kind of treatment program is required in these situations and we certainly know that addictions can hit any segment of the population. So if you or someone you are close to is suffering from autism and a dependency issue, please reach out so we can steer them towards an appropriate recovery program.