Autism and drug-use: drowning in the void
It’s no secret that I’m a recovering drug addict. It’s certainly even less of a secret that I am also Autistic/multiply neurodivergent. When one considers the reality of meeting diagnostic criteria for autism, ADHD, and schizophrenia; It’s easy to see how drug use was an inevitability. I often joke that AuDHD isn’t descriptive enough for me, and that I should describe myself as AuDphrenic.
It’s important to note that I don’t like to differentiate between “drugs” and “alcohol” given that alcohol itself is a drug. The separation of the two has been instrumental in the dehumanisation of those struggling with their use of things outside of the world of alcohol.
Autistic people can and do use drugs. Many professionals believe that we don’t, but we do. We often have access, means, and reason to use drugs. Allow me to present some statistics on drug use, found in this study:
Despite over all being less likely to report recreational drug use, there were some significant findings:
We are nine times more likely to report using recreational drugs to manage our behaviour.
We are more likely to report using recreational drugs to manage our mental health.
We are more likely to report vulnerabilities associated with drug use such as;
Being tricked or forced into drug-use
This highlights some significant points of consideration for Autistic people. Those of us on the AuDHD intersection may be experiencing atypical burnout. This presents a high likelihood of Tanya Adkin’s concept of meerkatting coming into play. For an Autistic person in meerkat mode, drug use may offer a great deal of reprieve and give the feeling of an extended number of spoons/cognitive resources (see spoon theory).
When I was using drugs, I treated myself as a science experiment. For an AuDHD Schizophrenic, drugs allowed me to find a flow-state. They made the management of my Self and identity more manageable. I would keep journals of my drug use in order to see how far I could push it. Just how high could I get?
Some Autistic people use drugs safely. Cannabis and psychedelics are very popular options for self-medication, and I know of many who use them as such. It’s important that we recognise the risks without invalidating those who use them safely as medicine. In a world where a trip to the doctors can bankrupt you, we should not judge those who self-medicate. We should create a space where it is okay to explore all the pros and cons.
It’s also important to note the aforementioned risk of forced drug use. Many of us wish desperately to be part of friendship groups, which places us in a vulnerable position. Mate crime and criminal exploitation can often start with forced drug use. We need to protect Autistic people against the inevitable black market that has arisen from prohibition.
Addiction is a real risk, I know because I am an addict. For many of us, things can spiral out of control. Societies framing of addicts as something inhuman has created a world where it is unsafe to discuss this fact of life. We need to build communities where people can access meaningful peer-based support and advice for drug-use that has spiralled out of control.
In a world where up to 66% of Autistic people have considered suicide, and 35% have attempted suicide (see this study), we need to take a really good look at how we support Autistic people with things such as drug-use.