The Mighty Logo

New Study Suggests Strong Link Between Autism and Substance Use Risk

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.

Get more on autism: Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

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

Want more of The Mighty?
You can find even more stories on our Home page. There, you’ll also find thoughts and questions by our community.
Take Me Home