by Guest Blogger, Evelyn Robinson
Every parent with a child or young adult that has autism will know of the highs and lows the condition causes and the challenges and battles that need to be faced on a daily basis. According to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), three out of every one thousand children aged between three and ten years old will suffer from autism. There may also be a significant number of children who remain undiagnosed. There is now a school of thought that suggests adolescents and young adults who have autism might be more at risk of substance and drug abuse
Autism, self esteem and self medicating
Autism isn’t something that has a miraculous cure and as the child who has it grows and develops, they may find they are placed under additional stress as they struggle to cope with the feelings they have, alongside the emotions they experience as a young adult.
One of the many aspects of autism that affects any sufferer whether younger or older is a sense that they feel they don’t fit in with the rest of society. It could be that at school or in the workplace the sufferer is teased because they somehow seem different, or act in a particular way which can lead to initial problems with teasing or bullying that feel hard to explain and overcome.
According to treatmentsolutions.com these experiences may lead the autistic person to feel sad, lonely and depressed. In some cases they might start drinking or taking illegal substances. At first perhaps, as a way of self medicating and a way of numbing the feelings they have. It might occur to them that it’s a way of them trying to integrate more with their peers and a way of making them feel somehow cooler or smarter in that they have something in common.
How drug addiction can affect autistic people
Taking drugs it bad for anyone, regardless of any other conditions they may or may not suffer from. There are added dangers though for anyone who is suffering from autism that becomes addicted to drugs.
The person with autism often finds that the skills they need to interact with others in social situations and their understanding of what is appropriate or inappropriate behavior in certain contexts can get muddled and confused. Thus, if they are drinking heavily or taking illegal substances to simply get through these situations they might not be able to moderate or keep in check how much they have taken or indeed what. This can quickly lead to issues with addiction or in some cases overdosing.
The other, equally serious consideration is that if the person with autism is taking a program of medications to keep their condition stable and in check, they might find that the taking of illegal drugs or alcohol can severely inhibit or negate totally the effects of the legitimate treatments they are taking.
The organisation autism-help.org suggests that because the brain structure of people who have autism is slightly different, the way that drugs and alcohol affect their body physically as well as mentally can be much stronger and more dangerous. Existing symptoms of the illness such as high anxiety levels or incidences of depression can be made much worse by taking drugs.
This study from drugabuse.gov backs up the assertion from autism-help.org. It is based on the discovery that the common MePC2 Protein that forms part of our nervous system is altered slightly in those who have autism. This means that they are of a greater susceptibility to becoming addicted to alcohol or drugs. They found that this same protein was also altered in the same way in people without autism, but who also suffered from drug and alcohol abuse to varying degrees of severity.
What to do if you suspect your child is using drugs
This is a tricky call, even with young adults or children that aren’t autistic. They might not necessarily want to open up or talk about it if you tackle them. For any parents who may be concerned drugabuse.gov/students is a really useful link which explains a lot about youth addiction and how to tackle youngsters about potential problems they may have.
It’s important to try not to panic too much, but to try and approach the situation by making sure that channels of communication are always open between you and your child. It can be of great help to try and ascertain if there is any way a link up can be made between an Autism Specialist and a Youth Substance Abuse Counsellor who can liaise with both the patient and the family to find a way forward with treatment. Finding some help for drug abusers in Texas or in any of the other states is useful, alongside actually being clued up about the different types of substances that are open to abuse.
It’s also incredibly important to be aware that laying down the law too much can sometimes have the opposite effect. If you tell your child not to experiment, they might rebel and go right ahead and do it anyway. Look to your own habits and make sure that your own attitudes to drinking and drugs are not being misinterpreted in any way.
If at all possible, if the child or young adult is of school or college age, speak to someone like a nurse or counsellor at the establishment for help and advice on the situation and to make sure that if needed they have somewhere to go to talk if they require.
Finally, if the problems are of such a severe nature that you or your family feel they cannot cope, then inpatient or outpatient treatment at an appropriate facility might be the best course of action.