What makes an addict depends on a variety of circumstances. Over the years, scientists have been able to identify new causes that lead a person to addiction. One surprising factor that has come to light is that substance addiction is more common in people on the autism spectrum. Behavioral, genetic, and psychological symptoms of autism can all play a role in this predisposition.
If you or a loved one have autism and a possible substance abuse disorder, please reach out to our professionals at 706-480-8733 and determine how you can receive treatment.
Continue reading on for more information about how autism and addiction link together. You can click a link to jump to that particular section. Please reach out to our experts today if you require additional assistance.
Studies show that autism and drug abuse can be linked through someone’s behavior. Two of the fundamental behavioral traits that both drug abuse and autism share are impulsivity and compulsivity.
Impulsivity is when a person acts or reacts quickly without thinking it over. An example of this could be spending their money freely on items that they don’t actually need.
Compulsivity is when a person is unable to stop an activity once it has started. An example of this is someone washing their hands repeatedly, as OCD sufferers sometimes do.
Just as those with autism display characteristics of both impulsivity and compulsivity, so do addicts. Someone addicted to a substance use it habitually despite the negative consequences. They do not second guess their actions. They also want gratification as soon as possible.
Eric Hollander is the director of the Autism and Obsessive-Compulsive Spectrum Program at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. One of the main reasons people come in for treatment is because they’re out of control and addicted to an activity they partake. For example, this activity can include shopping, gaming, or gambling. This is very similar to the plight of an addict who is out of control with their addiction. Likewise, someone that has caused major negative impacts on their lives.
Patrick Rothwell, one of the few researchers studying addiction and autism concurrently, says that repetitive behavior can become ingrained and very difficult to break out of. Furthermore, the repetitive symptoms of autism and the habitual patterns of addiction can intertwine. For example, someone who has both autism and alcoholism may go through a certain number of drinks on a given day because it is simply routine for them. It is part of their daily life and has been for a prolonged period of time.
Genetics can also play a part in the link between autism and addiction. There is no one-to-one correspondence, but the genetic makeup of people struggling with autism shares a few commonalities with addicts. Both tend to lack specific genes associated with the brain structures that govern serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. The part of the brain most affected is a central region called the ventral striatum. Those affected have difficulty socializing because the reward center of the brain doesn’t respond to socializing. And given the amount of research linking addiction to isolation, it isn’t difficult to see how a so-called addictive personality might be quite similar to an autistic one.
Patrick Rothwell found that NLGN3, a candidate gene for autism, is also highly active in one of the brain regions associated with drug use. A lack of certain chemicals in the brain can increase the likelihood of addiction.
For example, oxytocin helps create social bonds by connecting the memory of specific people to pleasure. People with autism often have low oxytocin levels, which goes a long way to explain why many of them find social interactions unpleasant and unrewarding. Researchers have even found that mice with low oxytocin exhibit similar problems: they are less friendly and behave in ways that might well look familiar to an autistic person.
Similarly, many people who suffer from addiction find social interactions difficult and start using drugs to cope with their loneliness or eliminate self-consciousness. As you can see, some genetic development turns can inhibit a person from interacting with their society at an average level, and substances allow them to fill that void.
If you or someone you love are suffering from addiction, then please call us today. Our experts will help you get on the track to sobriety that is best for you.
Autism and addiction are linked psychologically as well. It has been hypothesized that both are deviances of regular adaptive coping strategies. Indeed, both result in an individual who struggles with how they perceive themselves and the world at large. These negative perceptions are self-reinforcing because individuals tend to feel that there is something wrong with them because of their condition. This can have profound effects on a person’s professional, social, and emotional state of being. Here are some ways each of these aspects are affected.
A so-called “autistic condition” occurs in many innovators in the science and engineering world. Such people derive extreme satisfaction from contributing to their career field. The downside to this is that they may advance in their career by any means necessary, often taking drugs for performance and risking addiction along the way. A person who has autism may also find that partaking in drugs enables them to socialize better. At a minimum, it helps them form a common bond with others who enjoy drugs.
Thus, people with autism and addiction tend to feel that drug culture helps them gain acceptance from their peers. Also, when a person becomes accepted in a group, it leads them to feel safe and want to be in that environment.
Those who have autism have hypersensitivities, which can cause insufficient emotional regulation. Situations in everyday life can be overwhelming, leading to dopamine depletion. Dopamine allows an individual to relax, and if a person is unable to relax, it becomes yet another reason to turn to substances.
Problems Treating Autism and Addiction
Even though there are standard links between autism and addiction, those that have both find it difficult to recover. Getting help can be challenging for them. One of the reasons for this is that people are just not that knowledgeable about autism. Sometimes, autism symptoms can go unnoticed, and there is also an entire spectrum of symptoms that differ in nature and severity. Parents don’t know what to look for, and it takes a primary care physician to diagnose if their child has autism properly. This can lead to many years of a person not correctly understanding what might be ‘wrong’ with them behaviorally, genetically, and psychologically. That is a powerful predictor of substance use all by itself.
Another problem in the recovery process is that rehabilitation centers don’t know how to properly treat both autism and addiction. So far, there has been very little research done on how to treat these conditions concurrently, and the usual methods of addiction treatment are not ideal for an autistic person either. One example is that most recovery programs deal with group therapy, where people are required to speak in front of others about their addiction and how it has affected their lives. The expectation is that patients will form bonds of mutual support with each other, but what happens if forming bonds is an unusually slow and stressful process for you?
One way to help those that suffer from autism and addiction is to make individual therapy more available. The good news is that many rehab recovery centers are now doing just that and becoming more versatile in other ways. Hopefully, further studies of autism and drug addiction will still unlock more effective treatment methods. Contact us today to discover what the best treatment option is for you and your needs.
Get Help Today
As you can see, there are many links between autism and addiction. This does not mean everyone who is autistic is prone to addiction, nor that any addict could be on the spectrum; it is merely a guide to help further understand addiction in general. You and many others may not have realized it, but your habit could be linked to undiagnosed autism. If you have read this and think that you may have autism, it is best to consult a doctor to assess you properly. But in any case, if you or a loved one are suffering from addiction, then please contact our experts. You can reach them at 706-480-8733. They can answer all your questions and connect you to the treatment resources you need.
Written by Irfan Jeddy