Autism and Alcoholism: Is There A Link?

Autism and Alcoholism
Upset woman sitting alone on city stairs

For many years, medical experts didn’t really associate autism with alcohol addiction. The focus was more on the link between depression, PTSD, anxiety, and other mental health disorders and alcoholism. However, new research indicates that there is a higher link than once thought between those on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and substance abuse.

These findings pose several concerns, as there hasn’t been a lot of research done on treating those on the autism spectrum who struggle with substance abuse or alcoholism. Some questions remain. Do traditional alcoholism treatment modalities work well for those diagnosed with autism? If not, what may work better?

This article discusses autism, alcoholism, as well as possible treatments to help anyone on the autism spectrum get the help they need to overcome substance abuse.

What Is Autism?

According to the CDC, autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a “developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral changes.” Those that fall on the autism spectrum tend to have trouble communicating and interacting with others.  Their social skills tend to be more limited. The degree of challenges depends on the degree of the disability. Other symptoms of autism include:

  • Anxiety
  • Repetitive behaviors
  • Obsessiveness
  • Limited facial expressions
  • Fidgeting
  • Sensitivity to sounds, noise, or certain objects
  • Distinct pattern recognition

Asperger’s Syndrome

Some people think autism and Asperger’s syndrome are completely different things. Asperger’s syndrome actually falls on the autism spectrum. Those that are diagnosed with Asperger’s still have some trouble with some of the symptoms of autism, but they tend to have higher levels of functioning. In other words, the severity of the symptoms tend to be less.

Autism and Alcoholism

Many experts and laypeople have long believed that those that fall on the autism spectrum shy away from drinking alcohol. While this may be true for those that fall on the furthest end of the autism spectrum, those that are higher functioning do sometimes turn to alcohol in an attempt to relieve some symptoms.

For example, someone who is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome may experience a high level of anxiety. To try to cope or manage their anxiety, they may turn to drinking alcohol. Some of them may become addicted to it and others may be able to manage their use. Of course, other factors come into play, such as home environment, social support system, age, and more.

Autism & Substance Use Disorders

Health experts aren’t sure exactly how many people on the autism spectrum struggle with alcoholism or substance abuse disorders. One study shows that 58 percent of those diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) struggle with substance abuse, while only about 30 percent of those diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

It’s believed that the higher functioning one is on the autism spectrum, the higher the chance of them turning to alcohol to cope with some of the negative symptoms of autism or Asperger’s Syndrome.

Can Autistic People Drink Alcohol?

Some people wonder if autistic people can drink alcohol socially and/or responsibly.  As with any population, there are various factors involved. Some diagnosed on the autism spectrum can drink socially and responsibly without experiencing any problems. Others, however, may fall into addiction.

Feeling social anxiety may be one reason why someone on the autism spectrum may desire to drink alcohol. Or they could just see the media portraying drinking as something cool or fun and want to do it. Understanding that alcohol won’t cure anxiety or make activities more fun might help someone refrain from turning to alcohol.

There are helpful treatments for social anxiety provided by professional therapists.  For those on the spectrum contending with high anxiety, it’s recommended that they seek such help rather than turn to alcohol.

Signs Of An Alcoholic

Alcoholism, also known as alcohol use disorder, is characterized by several symptoms. Typically, falling prey to the disease of alcoholism occurs over time. One may begin to drink here and there, but then they become mentally and physically dependent on the drug. Symptoms of alcoholism include:

  • Continued drinking even if you experience problems due to drinking.
  • Increased tolerance, so you have to drink more to get the same effect.
  • You experience withdrawal symptoms when you refrain from drinking.
  • Hiding alcohol and/or lying about how much you drink.
  • Trying to quit, but you can’t.
  • Obsessing about alcohol. You think about it all the time.
  • Blacking out frequently from over-drinking.
  • You slack on your job, school, parenting, etc. due to drinking.

Alcoholism: Reach Out For Help

Anyone diagnosed on the autism spectrum can certainly struggle with an addiction to alcohol. While doctors may not know of the exact correlation between autism and alcoholism, the reality is that a link does exist. This is especially true for a higher functioning person with Asperger’s who struggle with social anxiety. The temptation to use alcohol to reduce anxiety can be quite high, especially among the youth.

If you or someone you know is struggling with alcoholism or is showing warning signs of alcohol addiction, reach out for help from a substance abuse expert or treatment center. If autism or Asperger’s syndrome is present, so be sure to look for programs that specialize in both. There is hope for overcoming alcoholism, as well as managing autism or Asperger’s syndrome.

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33 comments
  1. Thank you Detax to rehab for sharing these type of stories with all of us.These stories are really very much inspirational for many people who are addicted with something.

  2. Autism symptoms are enormous and its counterpart, alcoholism is also many. The only way out of them to me is self determination with the help of God.

  3. People with autistic traits can be socially withdrawn, so drinking with peers is less likely. But if they do start drinking, even alone, they tend to repeat that behavior, which puts them at increased risk for alcohol dependence. Thanks for sharing this blog.

  4. Drug addicts most at times need people who can be of help. Let not put them down if we have them around. Let them know they can be recovered.

  5. Thanks to Detox for sharing this post. I am just reading about Autism for the first time and it feels good to learn about it via this post.

  6. It is hopeful to read that there’s a way when it comes to treating autism. i think those that needs this help should see this and it will help them progress better in life

  7. Well this is farfetch to me but I do recognize that even people with autism can drink but Directly who knows? I guess I will leave it to thw experts.

  8. I thought Autism and alcoholism are two different things entirely. This information has really open my eyes.

  9. Autism is associated with addiction. Most people that are alcoholic addicted are as a result of autism. More treatment should be available for people to overcome it.

  10. Well i see the correlation now, proper care for those in this category goes a long way. Thanks for this piece

  11. Such an informative and emotional read. Understanding the correlation between alcoholism, autism and Asperger’s is definitely key in preventing it from happening. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Reading this article gave me a lot of information about the relationship between autism and alcoholism, they are social diseases of which many people are unaware.

  13. I always like reading your articles, I learn everyday. Learning about autism first time ever. You’re really doing a great job detox.

  14. This post is really educative, just learning about the relationship between autism and alcholism. Thanks detox to rehab

  15. Yes, there is a link. Those suffering from autism tend to have problems relating with others and one of their ways out is alcohol.

  16. I knew it before now that Anxiety, Repetitive behaviors, Obsessiveness etc are symptoms of autism and alcoholism. This is a rich information. Thank you.

  17. Anybody who is experiencing Fidgeting,
    Sensitivity to sounds, noise, certain objects etc should know there’s problem of autism and should visit the doctor. Thank you guys.

  18. There is really a wide range of autism kind. And sometimes could be very discreet. We should all practice a good observation and sensitivity on people around us.

  19. Wow..so their is a link between substance abuse and individuals in the autism spectrum disorder…thank God for science and research…I never knew their could be a link between them..a lot of people are on the autism spectrum and they need articles like this to know how to get help they need to overcome the substance abuse…nice one

  20. They both could be connected. Their consequential effect are similar but turning to alcohol in a bid to relieve some symptoms of autrism is something I’m still thinking about.

  21. An educative article. From the content it’s more likely that an autistic person tries to find some solace or relieve in alcohol.

  22. Autism and alcohol do have a link. Most alcohol users tends not to relate well in the public as a result of their addiction to it.

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