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New Study Suggests Strong Link Between Autism and Substance Use Risk

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What happened: A new study out of Taiwan reveals that some people on the autism spectrum may be at a higher risk for substance use. Researchers looked at data from the country’s health insurance program to look at whether autism was a risk factor for developing substance use disorder. According to the published findings, data from more than 6,000 patients compared to a control group of neurotypical people showed autistic people were at a higher risk of substance use — but the risk jumped for those who also had behavioral issues and did not take psychotropic medications. Additionally, these combined characteristics were associated with a higher risk of death. The study indicates the need for additional support across the lifespan for autistic people.

The Frontlines: Approximately one in 54 children are diagnosed as autistic in the United States. Several studies have examined the incidence of mental illness and substance abuse among neurodiverse individuals.

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often occurs with among autistic people, with 28% of people on the spectrum showing clinical signs.
  • ADHD has been found to be a strong marker for the risk of developing an addiction.
  • One study showed that among people receiving treatment for substance use, 7% were autistic compared to 1% of the general population.

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A Mighty Voice: Our contributor, Lamar Hardwick, who struggled as a teen before being diagnosed as autistic, shared, “At age 14, I turned to drugs and alcohol as a response to pressure to behave like a ‘people person’ and entertain the unreasonable expectations the world placed on me. It led me down a road that dead ends at the corner of lonely and lost. Thankfully, I survived and am doing well today, but decades later I find myself searching for more ways to use my story, my experiences and my past to point other young autistic boys and girls in the right direction. I can’t change my past, but perhaps I can help change someone’s path” You can submit your first-person story, too.

Other things to know: Here is what other autistic Mighty contributors are saying about facing other mental health challenges:

How to take action: For more information on this study you can click here and call the SAMHSA hotline if you are in need of help for a substance issue right now at 1-800-662-HELP.

Photo by Hermes Rivera on Unsplash

Originally published: January 6, 2021
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