Greater Risk of Substance Use Disorders for Adolescents with Autism

January 10, 2021

Individuals Treated with Prescription Drugs for Behaviors Have a Lower Risk for Substance Abuse

A new study from Taiwan found that substance use disorder (SUD) was more prevalent in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) than in sex-and age-matched nuerotypical controls. Additionally, this research discovered that individuals with autism who abuse alcohol or illicit drugs have more than a three-fold higher risk of death than those without ASD and SUD. Adolescents on the spectrum who have comorbidities such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intellectual disability, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), mood disorder, anxiety, depression and impulse control disorder were more likely to have SUD. The study’s researchers reported that using pharmacological treatments to manage comorbid symptoms may prevent SUD in adolescents on the spectrum. The authors theorized that the risk of SUD is reduced if adolescents with ASD maintained a stable condition. The researchers acknowledged that behavioral supports, speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy for managing symptoms of autism were not assessed but could have a similar beneficial effect of prescription drugs for keeping those on spectrum stable. Ultimately, the study called for pediatricians to educate parents of adolescents with ASD about the risks of developing SUD. The research also encouraged pediatricians to inform parents to monitor their child’s substance usage and to seek treatment for their child’s comorbid conditions to mitigate risks of SUD.

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