Autism And Alcoholism – Is There A Link?

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Alcoholism is a form of alcohol use disorder. It is characterised by the lack of control over drinking alcohol.

This may include binge drinking, or struggling to stop drinking alcohol once you start. Alcohol addiction can have negative consequences on your life – including your mental and health, finances, relationships and general well-being.

Are there any links between autism and alcohol use disorders? Can alcohol dependence lead to autism or vice versa? What are the dangers of drinking use and autism?

Some people believe that drinking alcohol excessively can cause autism, whether it be directly, or through pregnancy – but we are here to let you know whether this is true or not.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism is a complex spectrum condition that typically presents itself in early childhood and lasts your whole life.

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can affect people differently – it can affect all areas of your life, whether it be your social skills, relationships, communication, moods, and self-regulation.

There are different types of autism:

  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • Kanner’s syndrome
  • Childhood disintegrative disorder
  • Pervasive developmental disorder
  • Rett syndrome


People with autism appear to be more likely to have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – experts think that up to 70% of people with ASD have ADHD.

It can affect people to varying degrees – some people may only display a few mild symptoms, whereas others may have many debilitating symptoms. Many autistic people will have trouble with social interactions or with verbal and non-verbal communication.

They may become socially withdrawn. As ASD is a developmental disorder, the condition involves issues with how you develop from childhood to adulthood – which can present in a wide variety of ways.

Autism has no cure, although certain measures can be taken to control some of the symptoms of autism.

Common Autistic Traits

The symptoms of autism and Asperger Syndrome can vary – and the severity of the symptoms can vary depending on where you sit on the spectrum.

Some people may be considered ‘high-functioning’. This can lead to them becoming undiagnosed. It is thought that there are between 150,000 and 500,000 undiagnosed autistic people between the ages of 20 and 49 – and up to 600,000 undiagnosed autistic people over the age of 50.

Some common symptoms of autism in adults include:

  • Difficulty understanding what others are feeling or thinking
  • Taking things literally or not understanding sarcasm or certain phrases
  • Sensory problems
  • Difficulty expressing how you feel
  • Appearing blunt or rude to others (unintentionally)
  • Sticking to certain routines and feeling anxious if the routine changes
  • Difficulty making friends or preferring own company
  • Feelings of anxiety in social situations (social anxiety)
  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Repeating words and phrases
  • Repetitive movements (e.g rocking body)
  • Sensitivity to sounds, smells, and tastes
  • Not responding to their name
  • Liking certain routines and getting upset with changes to routine
  • Difficulty expressing how they feel
  • Trouble making friends
  • Taking things literally
  • Having a strong interest in certain topics/ activities

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Does Autism Increase The Risk of Alcohol Addiction?

Multiple studies have been conducted to determine whether there are any links between autism and alcohol dependence/ addiction – however, many of these studies have conflicting results so it can be difficult to determine the links, or whether there even are links.

It is currently thought that people with ASD are at a lower risk of developing alcohol addiction – especially when other conditions are taken into account such as depression or bipolar disorder.

However, if an autistic person drinks alcohol, this changes – and they may be at a higher risk of becoming alcohol-dependent.

The symptoms of autism can vary – but many people with autism struggle with social and communication skills, social withdrawal, as well as repetitive behaviour and attachment to routine.

People with autism tend to find comfort in these behaviours – and if drinking becomes a part of these behaviours, it can be difficult to break out of the routine.

When people with ASD get into a habit of drinking, they could be at risk of repeating the behaviour and using it as a coping mechanism. This could put them at an increased risk of alcohol addiction.

It is thought that the more autistic traits somebody has, the higher the risk of developing alcoholism and substance use disorders. A study found that there was a higher likelihood of having a substance use disorder in people who had six or more autistic traits.

Out of the study participants who had six or more autistic traits, approximately 35% displayed signs of alcohol dependence.

Can Alcoholism Cause Autism?

Drinking alcohol during pregnancy can be dangerous, and have negative effects on the child – for example, fetal alcohol syndrome – but does drinking during pregnancy cause autism?

There is currently insufficient evidence to suggest that alcoholism can cause autism, whether it be directly or through pregnancy or lineage. There is limited current evidence – but based on what is available, there appears to be no link between low to moderate alcohol consumption and the development of childhood ASD.

Likewise, there’s no evidence to suggest that there are links between high levels of maternal alcohol consumption during pregnancy and the risk of autism in children.

Another study examined whether maternal alcohol consumption (including binge drinking), is linked to autism spectrum disorders in children/ infantile autism. The findings didn’t support that prenatal alcohol exposure increased the risk of autism – and any risk for those who binge drank alcohol during pregnancy was likely non-causal.

However, a study that analysed the lineage of an autistic child found that 39% of the 167 pedigrees had alcoholism in patterns consistent with being transmitted through genetics.

This suggested that children born into families with higher levels of alcoholism were more likely to have autistic behaviour. The study suggested that there was an association between regressive onset autism and maternal alcoholism.

Getting Help For Alcoholism

If you are addicted to alcohol, or a loved one is struggling with alcohol addiction, getting help is the best thing you can do. Nobody should have to live with addiction – which is why our dedicated team of experts can find the right alcohol rehab treatments for you.

The first stage of recovery is an alcohol detox. Detoxification aims at dealing with the physical aspect of addiction only, rather than the behavioural, social and psychological aspects.

You may experience withdrawal symptoms when going through alcohol detox. Some people prefer an inpatient detox or a medical detox/ medically assisted detox. In some cases, you may be given detox medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms, or detox at home with a home detox kit.

Once you have detoxed from alcohol, you will move on to the next stage of addiction treatment – therapy. Therapy can improve your confidence as well as other psychiatric disorders/ mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. Therapy such as CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) can also help you deal with some symptoms of autism.

The main forms of therapy offered in rehab, whether it be private rehab or NHS-operated rehab, include counselling, group therapies, CBT, DBT (dialectical behavioural therapy), interpersonal therapy and family therapy.

At Help4Addiction, we want you to have the best chance of beating your alcohol addiction and staying sober. We’ll take the time to listen to your story, your preferences, and your requirements to find the right alcohol support services for you.

We’re in contact with treatment facilities all around England and Wales and can find the best treatment options for you to beat your addiction – whether you’re looking for inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab.

Contact our friendly team of experts today to get the ball rolling on the admissions process. As well as alcohol addiction, we can find rehab facilities that deal with prescription drug addiction and illicit drug addiction.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

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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