In the UK, around 700,000 people have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – and around one in a hundred children have a diagnosis. [i]
The amount of people who are dependent on alcohol is similar to the number of people with autism – there are just over 600,000 dependent drinkers in the UK. [ii]
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. Numerous studies have been conducted to explore the links between autism and alcohol addiction.
So, are there any links between autism and alcohol use disorder? Can alcohol dependence lead to autism or vice versa? What exactly is alcohol use disorder/ addiction? What is autism? What are the dangers of drinking use and autism?
Read on to learn more about autism, alcohol addiction, and the links between the two – as well as how you can get help for alcoholism, whether it be for yourself or a loved one.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
You may have heard of autism, or know people with autism – or you may even have it yourself – but how much do you know about the disorder?
Autism is a complex spectrum condition that classes as a disability. Typically, the disorder presents itself in early childhood and lasts your whole life. ASD (autism spectrum disorder) can affect people differently – it can affect all areas of your life, whether it be your social skills, relationships, communication, moods, and self-regulation.
As it is a spectrum disorder, it can affect people to varying degrees – some people may only display a few mild symptoms, whereas others will have many debilitating symptoms.
In 2022, there is no known single cause of autism. Being diagnosed with autism early can help you to receive the support and services you need, meaning your life may be less affected by the disorder.
Although people can be affected by autism in different ways, most people will have trouble interacting socially 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They may become socially withdrawn.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 spectrum disorders can vary. There is more than one type of autism – you may have heard of Asperger syndrome. Aspergers is a mild form of autism. People with Asperger’s are considered high-functioning – which means that their lives tend to be less affected by the condition.
Asperger’s may not be as obvious to other people, whether it be colleagues, classmates, or friends. Classic autism, on the other hand, may present more symptoms – so it may be more obvious to other individuals. Another form of ASD is atypical autism. Like Asperger’s syndrome, atypical autism tends to have milder symptoms.
Autism has no cure, although certain measures can be taken to control some of the symptoms of autism.
Many people benefit from a multidisciplinary approach with medical assistance, speech and language therapists, as well as occupational therapists – with the end goal being to achieve the best quality of life possible.
Common Autistic Traits
The symptoms of autism can vary – and the severity of the symptoms can vary depending on where you sit on the spectrum.
Autism symptoms can also vary in men and women – for example, women with autism may appear quieter, may cope better in social situations, experience social withdrawal and may hide their feelings more. The way symptoms present in women can make it harder to get a diagnosis.
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
- 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) [iii]
Some symptoms that children with autism display include:
- 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 [iv]
What is Alcohol Addiction?
Alcohol addiction is considered a mental and physical illness. It can affect all areas of your life – for example, your finances, relationships, career, and of course, your mental health and physical health.
People that are addicted to alcohol will have a lack of control over their alcohol consumption – despite the negative consequences.
Lack of control over drinking can include being unable to control when you drink, how often you drink, or how long you drink. For example, you may be unable to stop drinking once you start, or you may abuse alcohol by drinking excessive amounts in a short period.
According to the NHS and the UK Government, the recommended alcohol limit per week is 14 units. [v] The drinking recommendations are there for a reason – too much alcohol can be harmful to your health. Alcohol abuse/ alcohol use disorder has been found to be a causal factor in over 60 medical conditions. [vi]
Although alcohol abuse and alcohol addiction are not the same, they both fall under the category of alcohol use disorder. Alcohol addiction, also known as alcoholism, is the more severe form of alcohol use disorder – and it is important to seek help if you think you may be an alcoholic.
Signs You May Have an Alcohol Addiction
Alcohol addiction can be debilitating, and affect all areas of your life. That being said, some people can hide addiction, both from themselves and from other people – so it can sometimes be difficult to tell if a loved one has an addiction to alcohol. People with alcohol dependence may make excuses to themselves or to others for their excessive drinking or lie to others about their alcohol consumption (e.g pretend to be sober when not).
The most obvious sign that you have an alcohol addiction is being unable to control your alcohol use – drinking too much alcohol, drinking for too long, or drinking too often.
Alcohol can quickly become your main priority if you have an alcohol addiction – you may cancel plans to drink alcohol or stop enjoying activities you once enjoyed to prioritise alcohol.
If you have a physical addiction to alcohol, you may experience uncomfortable and unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you stop drinking or drastically lower the amount of alcohol you usually drink.
The withdrawal symptoms you experience can vary depending on the severity of your addiction – but the general rule of thumb is that the more severe the addiction, the worse your alcohol withdrawal symptoms will be.
Next up, we are going to explore the links between autism spectrum disorders and alcoholism, as well as give you the information you need about getting help for addiction. This includes learning about the rehab process, from detoxification to secondary treatment.
Autism Spectrum Disorders And Alcohol Dependence
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 a person with autism spectrum disorder drinks alcohol, this changes – and they may be at a higher risk of becoming alcohol-dependent – so they may develop alcohol problems.
The symptoms of autism can vary – but almost all people with autism will struggle with social and communication skills, social withdrawal, as well as repetitive behaviour and attachment to routine.
People with autism 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 will often repeat the behaviour and take comfort in the routine, which puts them at a higher risk of alcohol addiction.
It is thought that the more autistic traits somebody have, the higher the risk of substance abuse/ substance use disorder. A study found that there was a higher likelihood of having substance use/ substance abuse issues in people who had six or more autistic traits.
Out of the study participants that had six or more autistic traits, approximately 35% displayed signs of alcohol dependence. [vii]
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. [viii]
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?
In 2022, there is 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. [ix]
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. [x]
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 for you.
Rehab can feel daunting and many people feel nervous about taking the first step – so we’re going to let you know exactly what to expect from the alcohol rehab process.
First of all, you will detox from alcohol – which means you’ll have no access to alcohol to allow your body to free itself of the physical addiction. 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 – and in some cases, you may be given detox medication to ease the withdrawal symptoms.
Once you have detoxed from alcohol, you will move on to the next stage of rehab – 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.
After rehab, you may wish to continue receiving addiction treatment as an outpatient. This is called secondary treatment or aftercare. Aftercare aims to ease the transition from rehab to your normal life/ everyday life – and ultimately to prevent relapse. Some forms of aftercare include support groups (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), group therapy, and counselling.
How Help4Addiction Can Help
At Help4Addiction, we want you to have the best chance of beating your alcohol addiction. We’ll take the time to listen to your story, your preferences, and your requirements to find the right treatment plan at the right treatment centre for you.
We’re in contact with treatment facilities all around England and Wales and can find the best place for you to beat your addiction – whether you’re looking for inpatient rehab or outpatient rehab.
Consider the location – do you want to commute? Will you be an outpatient or an inpatient? Does the facility provide aftercare? What therapies are available there? We’ll help you consider all of these options when sourcing a rehab facility for you.
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 – for example, cocaine rehab, heroin rehab, ketamine rehab, or cannabis rehab.
We can also find rehab treatment centres for nicotine addiction. Call us today to get started on your recovery journey.