People with autism are more likely to self-treat for mental health symptoms

Key points

  • Compared with non-autistic adults, autistic adults drink at least three days a week, and non-autistic adults report twice as much alcohol abuse as non-autistic adults.
  • There is no difference in substance use between autistic and non-autistic women, but compared with non-autistic men, autistic men are less likely to report any recreational substance use.
  • Qualitative studies have found that adults with autism are nearly 9 times more likely to report using recreational drugs to control adverse symptoms than adults without autism.

For many people, the use of recreational drugs can help cope with mental illness.A recent study by Cambridge University researchers was published in The Lancet Psychiatry, It was found that although people with autism are less likely to use psychoactive substances, those who use psychoactive substances are more likely to self-treat for mental health symptoms.

Autism is often misunderstood, so much so that the Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN) adopted “There would be no us without us” as their motto. Due to misunderstandings about autism, people with autism may face unique mental health support barriers.

This study emphasizes the need for more acceptance of autism so that those dealing with mental health challenges can meet their needs.


In an online survey, samples of 1,183 autistic patients aged 16-90 and 1,203 non-autistic patients self-reported their frequency of substance use, and 919 participants also provided more detailed information Use feedback.

Although in general, adults with autism are less likely to use substances such as alcohol or drugs than non-autistic patients, adults with autism are almost as likely to report using recreational drugs to control symptoms of mental illness. Symptoms are 9 times that of peers.

The study also discussed social disguise-changing behavior in social situations to cover up symptoms of autism-as a reason for individuals with autism to be drugged. Alcohol and drugs can relieve anxiety and allow people with autism to change their behavior to adapt to them.

People with autism deserve fair care

Psychologist Dr. Marcia Eckerd said: “People don’t think that autism is sensible, but it is not. They have deep feelings. When autistic adults self-medicate their anxiety, depression, sensory problems, and In despair, they are four times more likely to face dependence, addiction, and suicide risk than non-autistic users.”

Marcia Eckerd, PhD

They have deep feelings and are more prone to depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts than ordinary people.

— Marcia Eckerd, PhD

This is why Eckerd emphasizes how research emphasizes that the current society and medical system fail to meet the urgent unmet needs of people with autism, who resort to substance use to treat pain by themselves.

Eckerd said: “People with autism use alcohol and drugs to endure mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and emotional overload. Without access to mental health care, they are at risk of a downward spiral of mental health problems and a higher suicide rate. .”

Need more acceptance of autism

Sharon Kaye-O’Connor, MSW, and LCSW, autism psychotherapist in New York, said: “This research touches on an important point that concealing and disguising the characteristics of autism will have a disastrous effect on the mental health of autistic patients. The impact of sex. Autism masking can lead to autism burnout.”

Acceptance and understanding are even more necessary, because O’Connor recommends getting rid of the ideology that the characteristics of autism are things that should be hidden or changed. “Some people with autism may self-medicate to cope with the stress of living in a neurotypical world that does not take their needs into consideration,” she said.

Sharon Kaye-O’Connor, MSW, LCSW

The current knowledge gap highlights the importance of autistic voices in further understanding the nuances of life on autism and autism.

— Sharon Kaye-O’Connor, MSW, LCSW

O’Connor said: “When faced with barriers to informed mental health care for autism, some people with autism may find themselves trying to manage their own struggles. Due to the difficulty of accessing health care services for autism, some autism Patients may self-medicate. Finding a mental health care provider who understands the world’s experience with autism remains challenging.”

The experience of autism is often misunderstood and misunderstood, so much so that O’Connor emphasizes that breakdowns may be mistaken for tantrums or “bad behavior”, while sensory problems may be mistaken for anxiety and autism. Burnout may be confused with depression. . She said: “We urgently need to better understand and accept the differences in autism.”

O’Connor explained that many people with autism may find themselves trying to manage their own struggles until they have a more professional and community understanding of the autism experience. “The current gap in knowledge highlights the importance of autistic voices in understanding the nuances of autism and autistic life,” she said.

What this means to you

This study shows that people with autism who use substances are more likely to do so from the treatment of mental health and adverse symptoms of autism. Broader acceptance of autism is essential to ensure fair access to health care services. The voice of autistic patients needs to be amplified.