Link Between ASD and Substance Abuse

An interesting article from Psychology Today appeared on my Facebook wall today:

Autistic Symptoms Make Higher Risk For Substance Abuse

Which apparently doesn’t mean people with an autism diagnosis:

‘As you would expect, previous research shows that people with autism tend to have low rates of substance abuse – the preference for low risk and avoidance of social situations means less drinking or drug use. But new research from the Washington University School of Medicine found the opposite: in their study of 3,080 Australian twins, people with symptoms of autism were more likely than people without symptoms to abuse alcohol and marijuana.’

So I think this article is saying that people toward the lighter end of the spectrum, as opposed to those with HFA, are at a higher risk of substance abuse issues.  It’s been observed that Asperger syndrome has a higher risk percentage of mood disorders than the neurotypical population.  One in three people with an Aspergers diagnosis will experience depression in their lifetime, as opposed to the one in five in the general population.

People with mental illness do tend to self-medicate.  A mental illness diagnosis reduces your life expectancy by up to twenty years and no, it’s not because of suicide.  The biggest killer of the mentally ill population are diseases acquired through smoking.  Also significant causes of death are cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.  Diseases acquired through various forms of self-medication.

Me, I have an addictive personality.  At any given time I indulge in a number of obsessive behaviours but as we know I am a hotbed of assorted psychological malfunction.  To blame my behaviours solely on any one of the conditions would be disingenuous.  Labels are useful tools for getting help but not always for treatment – rather than worrying about what was causing my obsessive behaviours the most helpful approach has been to address the psychology behind the behaviour (hello DBT.)  That way we can break the cycle and form some new ones.

So what does this mean for people on the spectrum?  It’s important to remember that association is not the same as determinism.  If you have a higher risk for substance abuse, that does not mean that you will be a substance abuser.

Like how I have bipolar disorder which means I have a life expectancy of 60.  That does not mean I’m going to drop dead on my 60th birthday, it means I have to take care of myself.  I don’t smoke.  I need to eat better and exercise more.  But also accept that there are no guarantees in life – I could walk out my door and get hit by a car tomorrow.

Be mindful of your own behaviour.  Acknowledge when your lifestyle changes and be honest with yourself as to why.  So you don’t socialise as much as you used to.  Why is that?  Maybe you’re under a lot of pressure at work right now and having to stay back long hours for a while?  Fine.  Or has your confidence slipped?  Do you not feel as close to your friends as you once did?  And do you find yourself reaching for the bottle more and more now that you’ve got more time sitting on your own in front of the tv?

Changes in weight, sleep, lifestyle should always be examined.  It’s not always going to be a cause for alarm, life is about change after all but change is not always positive and not always necessary.

Take care of yourselves

Mac

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