Addiction and Autism

Factors that Increase the Risk of Addiction

There is little doubt that some people are more at risk of developing addiction than others. This may be because of hereditary factors or it could be due to the environment in which the individual finds themselves. Those people who feel alienated from other people and struggle with social interactions seem to be particularly prone to substance abuse. This is because alcohol or drugs can make people feel more sociable while making them less self conscious. It is for this reason that people who suffer from conditions such as autism may be more at risk of addiction.

Autism Explained

Autism is a developmental disorder that can be quite complex in its manifestation. It occurs when different parts of the brain fail to work together. It is estimated that about 1 in 88 children have this condition.

Autism as a Spectrum Disorder

Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder. There is a wide spectrum of autistic behaviors and this means that the symptoms of the condition vary a great deal. This is why autism is sometimes referred to as autism spectrum disorder (ASD) to emphasize this fact. Everyone who has been diagnosed with ASD will suffer from a brain abnormality that impacts their social and communication skills, but there will be a great variety in how this manifests.

Types of Autism Spectrum Disorder

ASD can be divided into three types which include:

* Classic Autism (autistic disorder) usually involves an intellectual disability. It is usually first noticed in children because of language delays and it is characterized by problems associated with social interactions.
* Asperger syndrome refers to a type of autism where the individual is high functioning. The individual with this condition will have milder symptoms than classic autism.
* Atypical autism (pervasive developmental disorder) is where the individual meets some of the criteria for autism. These symptoms can be so mild that it will not be obvious that the individual is autistic.

Symptoms of Autism

The signs of autism usually begin to become noticeable before 18 months old. The symptoms of this condition can include:

* Difficulties with social interaction.
* Difficulties with verbal and nonverbal communication.
* They find it difficult to start and maintain a conversation.
* If a child reaches the age of 3 and is still not talking then this can be a sign of autism.
* The individual may perform repeated movements.
* They may become distressed if there are any changes to their normal routine.
* The person with autism may become overly attached to objects.
* They may use gestures instead of words when communicating.
* The individual may be overly sensitive to light, sound, touch, taste, or smell.
* They prefer solitude to spending time with others.
* If there is a loud noise they might not become startled.
* A child with autism might not have any real interest in pretend play.
* Low threshold for pain.
* Likes things to stay the same and may come upset if anything changes.
* Engages in repetitive or ritualistic play.
* An autistic child can be overly active or overly passive.
* Exhibits aggressive behavior towards other people or to themselves.
* Only have a few activities that they enjoy.
* They might have a short attention span.

Causes of Autism

The exact cause of autism has not been established but it is believed to involve a combination of factors including:

* Genetic inheritance – this is a condition that does appear to run in families.
* Mercury poisoning is a potential factor but not proven.
* Nutritional deficiencies.
* Sensitivity to vaccines has been suggested but not proven. The risk of not having these vaccines is higher than the risk of developing autism.
* Changes in the digestive tract.
* Chromosomal conditions
* Children with a low birth rate seem to be more at risk of developing autism.

There is not believed to be any link between poor parenting and the development of autism.

Alcohol and Autism

There are a number of ways in which autism and alcohol have been connected. It has been suggested that that there may be a link between a gene that increases the risk of autism and development of alcoholism. The research into this link is still in the early stages but it does seem that alcoholics are more likely to have this gene. It also appears that within autism families there is a higher incidence of alcoholism compared with the rest of the population. There have also been claims that if expecting mothers drink excessive alcohol during their pregnancy it increases the risk that their child will be autistic, but there is not as yet enough evidence to confirm this link.

Addiction and Autism

Those individuals who are dealing with ASD can be at particular risk from substance abuse. Children with this disorder may struggle to fit in at school and they might turn to alcohol or drugs as a means to cope with their feelings of alienation. This type of self medication can soon lead to addiction. The individual may initially feel that substance abuse helps to cover their social ineptness but over time it begins to cause serious problems in their life. The symptoms of ASD can mean that that the individual does not have the ability to control their use of mind altering substances. If they fall into a pattern of alcohol or drug use it will be a real struggle for them to break out of it.

Treatment of Autism

There is no cure for autism but the condition can be managed to varying degrees depending on where the individual is on the autistic spectrum. Available treatments include:

* Pharmacological agents can be used to treat related symptoms such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), hyperactivity, and anxiety.
* Behavior training management techniques can reinforce positive behaviors while discouraging maladaptive ones.
* Occupational therapy.
* Speech and language therapy
* Applied behavior analysis reinforces the behavior of certain skills.

It is important that people with ASD are careful around mind altering substances. This means avoiding all illegal drugs and only sticking to recommended levels for the safe intake of alcohol which is:

* One drink per day for adult women
* Two drinks per day for men under 65 years of age
* One drink per day for men over 65 years of age
* No drinks per day for anyone who struggles to stick to the safe limits

A drink would be classified as a standard beer, a glass of wine, or a shot of bar spirits.

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