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02-22 Autism linked to substance abuse

Autism linked to substance abuse

“When spider webs unite they can tie up a lion.” – Ethiopian Proverb

“We now know that there is not one autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences,” according to Autism Speaks. When the network of autism disorders is overlapped by the multifaceted entanglements that trap many individuals in substance abuse, it can be a web even the most-supported people become entrapped in.

A study reveals autistic spectrum individuals are at a much higher risk of substance abuse.

Studying the link

According to Deal With Autism, “As many as one-third of people with a mental disorder or autistic traits are fighting and coping with substance abuse.”

The website surmises that people with autism might experiment with depressant substances like alcohol or marijuana to assuage otherwise social and interpersonal communication underdevelopments. The website also explains that repetitive compulsions characteristic to autistic individuals can counterintuitively instigate binge substance abuse and thus lead to addiction.

Washington University School of Medicine conducted a 2014 study on people with varying levels of autism spectrum disorder traits and found:

  • The percentage of alcohol-dependent people among those with six or more [autism] traits was 35 percent, 15 percent higher than among those with no traits
  • 39 percent of people with six or more traits had used marijuana more than 10 times in their lives, 16 percent higher than people not exhibiting autistic traits

Sovereign Health treats all walks of life at a spectrum of care levels

Substance abuse among those with autism or related disorders is at issue, but so is substance abuse, teen pregnancy and the genetic traits a baby born to a teen mom may inherit.

“Speculations as to why autism occurs in the children of younger mothers is the idea that reproductive systems have not fully matured in teen mothers, affecting the development of the fetus.”

Read more: New study finds teen mothers more likely to have autistic children

In what could be described as an extrapolation of the chicken-egg quandary, it would seem the underdevelopment within a teen – the reproductive system and the brain’s prefrontal cortex, for example – that may be linked to affecting fetal development and risky decision-making respectively, can both spur and pass on developmental and substance dependency traits to the child – which in turn, raises the rates of substance abuse and other ill-coping methods within an autistic adolescent.

Sovereign Health of Rancho San Diego treats adolescents who may be struggling with mental health issues that often spur substance abuse or other risk-taking behavioral health problems.

We offer customized treatment that can address dual diagnosis of multiple issues in a comfortable summer camp-like setting away from home or even through smart-device-accessible eTherapy. Call our 24/7 helpline for details.

About the author

Kristin Currin-Sheehan is a Sovereign Health writer and her intriguing storytelling has been featured with Sovereign Health, KPBS TV/FM, FOX5 News in San Diego and NPR. Her illustrative and relatable approach to digital and broadcast news bridges businesses and consumers, news and community. For more information and other inquiries about this media, contact the author at

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