Autistic addiction advocacy: A lonely endeavour

The world of addiction advocacy can be incredibly bleak at times, but even more so in the autistic community. So few people are talking about autistic addicts; sometimes it feels like screaming into the void.

Being an addict is an incredibly lonely life. In or out of recovery, we are fighting a battle with a mind that constantly seeks to harm us. I never imagined that I would face a similar loneliness as an addiction advocate.

Addiction advocacy is such an important topic for the autistic community. We are a group that has been consistently alienated by society, with many autistics that I have met talking about using drinking and drugs as a coping mechanism. This has ranged from casual drinking and self-medication with cannabis through to more concerning discussions of addiction to substances that are known to cause a great deal of harm.

Despite the prevalence of drug and alcohol use in the autistic community, many remain silent on the topic of addiction. This silence breeds an environment where the insidious disease of addiction can kill our friends and loved ones.

It might seem like I am being hyperbolic in my speech, but addiction is literally killing people the world over, every single day.

The silence becomes most obvious when you look into the world of substance misuse treatment. This is a world that has never even considered the existence of (or differences of) neurodivergent addicts, let alone conducted research on it.

Honestly, this doesn’t surprise me; in order for treatment policy to notice us, we would first have to break the silence. How can we expect to be heard on this topic if we never talk about it?

Of course there are many legitimate reasons why people may struggle to talk about addiction. I have covered some of these reasons in my article Issues with addiction advocacy in the autistic community; despite those issues, we must get this conversation going; the lives of so many autistics depend on it.

People’s lack of interest in this topic leads me to believe that perhaps they think they are immune to addiction, but the truth is that addiction can come for anyone. Addiction knows no boundaries. For this reason, I will always stand and be heard as an autistic addict, even if I am the only person doing it.

I have a personal mantra for topics of mental health and addiction: “Open communication is key to recovery.” Talking is healing, and we must keep talking until others are listening. I promise every autistic addict reading this, I will not be silent, I will keep talking until the world recognises that you are here, and then I will talk some more.

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5 Responses

  1. I am an undiagnosed 69 year old who self identifies as autistic. I have been sober for over ten years after spending many years using alcohol to feel “normal”. Not long after I got sober a thought came to me in a rush and that thought was, “well, I am sober but I will never be “okay”. I will never be “fixed”.” Only recently have I come to the view that it is my autism that won’t change and, finally, that it shouldn’t. All my life I have tried so hard to act neurotypically, to keep up with neurotypicals in my life. Now, at my age, I am exhausted and burned out. After reading many of the articles presented here (which I started doing to better understand my grandson who is diagnosed) I have come to realize that my idiosyncrasies do not exist in a vacuum.
    Looking at my childhood, a conglomeration of rocking, head banging, spinning and being told to act normally, I gradually began to understand my relationship to the spectrum. My mother called me a nonconformist, even a bad seed, but she let me spin, God bless her. She had a sense of how badly I needed to do it. I am one a seven children. Middle child and a highly verbal girl so no connection to autism was made of course.
    There are many more clues but I’ve blabbed enough for now except to say that, yes, we are at risk for addiction, suicide and the whole of it.

  2. Weirdly enough the first person to suggest I was on the Spectrum was a man on an “AA for Atheists” forum. I was writing (searching for solace) after attending my cousin’s birthday at a winery where people kept handing me glass after glass of wine and I was blazingly drunk. I had been stressing, dreading and obsessing over the occasion for about 2 months beforehand and (as expected) I got out of control and said things to my relatives I shouldn’t have — until then I hadn’t seen most of them for years because I self-exiled myself to the opposite coast. When I wrote on the AA forum I was feeling suicidal and his suggestion that I was autistic felt out of the blue but at the same time caused a light bulb to go off.

    That was 10 years ago. I can’t afford a diagnosis but at age 54, after tons of research, I totally self-identify as autistic. It’s been a HUGE relief to finally know why I am the way I am and I’m much kinder to myself because of it. To me tt explains my chronic use of alcohol (though I also have a hereditary component) and sporadic use of other substances as coping mechanisms — when I discovered alcohol at age 13 it was the first time I felt “normal” and it allowed me to have what I thought was a “normal” social life.

    40+ years later I still have issues around drinking and am finally, truly realizing using alcohol does not serve me and has taken a toll on my health and emotional well-being. Thankfully, blessedly, I fully recognized the dangers of my drug use in my 20s and was able to stop and never look back. I have cut way back on my alcohol use as well, though my consumption is still not healthy (my goal for 2020!).

    I have always been surprised at the lack of discussion on autism forums about this. I’ve started conversations about it where only a few people were willing to participate but have always suspected there are A LOT more of us out there.

    David, keep on fighting the good fight. Thank you for your article. Please know that you’re not alone.

  3. Addiction recovery support is only one of the MANY kinds of groups that the autistic community currently lacks that could be extremely useful, to many of us, if only someone would organize them. The autistic community is, in general, vastly under-developed as an organized subculture.

    Of course, organizational under-development of the autistic community is only to be expected, given our social and executive functioning impairments.

    But, despite these impairments, SOME of us CAN do a reasonably good job of leading small groups. Some of us are much better at leading small groups than we are at, for example, participating in unfocused multi-person chit chat. (I’m terrible at the latter, but I facilitate a small local autistic peer support group here in NYC.)

    IMO what the autistic community really needs is leadership training. With more of us trained in how to lead small groups, we could do a LOT more for ourselves as a community, including addiction recovery support groups. And then, if such groups were to form, hopefully they could influence the psychotherapeutic establishment to give us more of the kinds of support we need, too.

    1. I will keep writing in the hope that others like your boyfriend see my work and feel a little less alone.

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