Addiction can affect anybody, whether you are neurodivergent or neurotypical – but are there any links between neurodiversity and addiction?
Do neurodivergent individuals and autistic people have a higher risk of developing an addiction? That’s what we’ll be exploring on this page.
Continue reading to learn more about neurodiversity and addiction, including the links between neurodiversity and substance abuse.
Addiction can affect your everyday life and long-term health. This is why, on this page, we’ll also be guiding you on how you can get help for addiction today, whether it be for yourself or a loved one.
Before we explore the links between neurodiversity and addiction, let’s explore the ins and outs of neurodiversity, including autism spectrum disorders and Asperger’s syndrome.
The term ‘neurodivergent’ refers to adults and children who have differences in their brains that affect how their brains work.
This can impact their communication skills and social connections and can include sensory differences. The term can refer to a wide range of people (human diversity in general) – but is generally used when describing those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, learning disabilities, and other neurological developmental disorders.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is often recognised as a neurodivergent condition – however, many people do not classify somebody with OCD as being neurodivergent. OCD affects the circuits in the brain, impacting judgement, body functioning, planning and communication.
Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disorder that is caused by certain differences in the brain. It is characterised by repetitive behaviours/ interests as well as differences in social communication and interaction with others. The symptoms of autism in a child may present differently to the symptoms of autistic adults.
People who are neurodivergent may have certain strengths, but also certain challenges in comparison to neurotypical people. This can include learning disabilities, medical disorders, and mental health disorders.
Many neurodivergent people will hide their differences in order to ‘camouflage’ in social situations. This is known as masking – and is essentially a form of social survival. People may mask in front of others that don’t understand what it means to be neurodivergent.
It is important to note that there is no correct way of thinking, behaving, or learning – the differences that neurodivergent people have should not be viewed as deficits.
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Now you have an understanding of what neurodiversity is, let’s explore the links between addiction and neurodiversity. There is much debate regarding substance use and addiction risk among those with neurodivergence.
However, it is thought that those with neurodivergence (e.g people with autism) may be at a higher risk of becoming dependent on drugs or alcohol.
The results from a study in Sweden found that a neurodivergent person (with average or above-average intelligence) may be two times more likely to develop a substance dependency than a neurotypical person. Additionally, people with an IQ of 100 or more may also be at a higher risk of addiction, especially among those with ADHD and autism.
Some studies suggest that people with autism are more likely to use substances, whereas others suggest they are less likely. The data at this moment is unclear.
The Autism Research Centre at Cambridge studied the frequency of substance use among those with autism – 1,183 autistic people and 1,203 non-autistic people between the ages of 16 and 90) shared information about their frequent substance use.
The results found that autistic adults were less likely to abuse substances, with only 16% of autistic adults (compared to 22% non-autistic adults) reporting drinking three or more days a week on average. Only 4% of autistic adults were found to binge drink, in comparison to 8% of non-autistic adults.
That being said, the qualitative data from the same study found that autistic adults were almost nine times more likely to use recreational drugs such as marijuana or amphetamines in order to manage their symptoms.
Abusing illicit substances such as cocaine or amphetamines can increase the risk of addiction – and addiction can be difficult to overcome without the right support. Check out this blog to learn more about the link between autism and alcoholism.
You may be wondering whether alcohol addiction during pregnancy can lead to a child being born with autism. Although parental exposure to alcohol can affect neurodevelopment, there does not appear to be a link between alcohol consumption in pregnancy and ASD.
That being said, the same may not be true for drug use and drug addiction. A study found that mothers who took opioids before pregnancy were more likely to birth a child with autism spectrum disorder, or a child with other developmental disabilities.
ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a neurodevelopment disorder characterised by symptoms such as restlessness and issues with concentration. ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopment disorders among children.
Around 25% of people with substance use disorders meet the criteria for ADHD. Likewise, research suggests that those with ADHD could be at a higher risk of developing a substance addiction or struggling with substance abuse problems.
At Help4Addiction, we can help you to find the right addiction treatment for you – whether you have a drug addiction or an alcohol addiction. Likewise, if a friend or family member is an alcoholic or has a substance use disorder, we can ensure they receive the treatment they deserve.
The first stage of addiction treatment is detoxification. This involves cleansing your body of the substance you’re addicted to – and addresses the physical dependence.
Once you have detoxed successfully, you can proceed to alcohol or drug rehab. This involves therapy – including talking therapies such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) or group therapy.
One size does not fit all when it comes to rehab, which is why we will find the right plan for you and your circumstances.
As well as improving your confidence and treating the social, psychological and behavioural aspects of addiction, therapy can also treat dual diagnosis – existing mental health conditions that co-occur with addiction.
If you are neurodivergent, we can find you a treatment plan tailored to your preferences and requirements.
Contact us today to begin your recovery journey. You don’t have to deal with addiction alone – we are here for you.
Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.
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