Autism and Addiction

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to discuss another comorbidity that is being increasingly associated with autism- addiction issues and substance abuse disorders.

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In recent years, researchers have estimated that autists may be twice as likely to suffer from addiction to drugs or alcohol than their neurotypical peers, with even higher rates in those who also suffer from ADHD. Interestingly, researchers held the belief for years that addiction was rare among autists due to our stern rigidity in following the rules and our difficulties with social interaction isolating us from potential peer pressure (but there was no real evidence to back up this view). As increasing numbers of adults are being diagnosed with autism every year, the data pool of autistic addicts could be much higher than we realize.

Addiction issues are not purely related to substance abuse for autists. Autists can suffer from a number of behavioral addictions such as gambling or shopping- there are even studies focusing on the impact of internet and video game addiction in the autistic community (may have been guilty of those at different times in my lifeπŸ˜‚).

So is there any scientific reason that autists are more prone to addiction issues?

There are very few studies that have explored the prevalence of addiction among autists so there is limited data available. However, there are several theories. One theory suggests that motor circuits in the brain play an important role in modifying our behaviours, so if there are issues in the motor system of the brain (as there are in autism), this may have a knock effect on our tendency towards addictive behaviours. Autists also have a tendency towards impulsivity, compulsivity and repetitive behaviours, which research suggests may predispose us to addiction as addictive behaviours are linked to the same brain regions involved in these types of behaviours. The link between these behaviours may even be genetic, as some studies indicate that candidate genes that are thought to cause autism, such as NLGN3 and CNTNAP4, are highly active in brain regions that are associated with addictive behaviours such as the striatum and the nucleus accumbens.

If you are having issues with addiction, you can find information about supports for autists at the following link: https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/mental-health/addiction/autistic-adultsΒ 

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

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