Unmet support needs and multiple systemic failures: A story of addiction and autism

As I have said before, I truly believe that addiction is the result of unmet support needs. This can be an incredibly complex field, but today I am going to take take brief dive into the experiences that led to my addiction.

My first major trauma was age 7. My best friend, Carl, died of leukaemia. At the age of 7, I had no way of processing this. From there the trauma kept coming. My therapist and I identified over 30 individual and unrelated traumatic experienced, we didn’t even get a chance to look at the systemic trauma I had experienced as an undiagnosed autistic person.

My mother tried desperately to get me diagnosed as autistic in the 1990’s, in hopes that there may be some support for me as I grew up. Repeatedly she was turned away as “an over-anxious mother with too much knowledge of the subject”.

So now I was an undiagnosed Autistic, trying to navigate a world that was in no way designed for me. After years of childhood trauma I started hearing voices and experiencing paranoia at the age of 18. I was so used to masking, and so utterly terrified of the mental health system that had failed me as a child, that I turned to drink and drugs.

Let’s take a step back for a moment. While all this was going on, we have to acknowledge that I grew up in an area of extreme social deprivation and poverty. My mum was working class, and supporting myself, my sister, my grandmother, and my aunt financially. My aunt was herself a drug addict and alcoholic, and substance use was a common staple of the town I grew up in.

I had sworn that I would never go down that path, but adult life was a lot more difficult than I could have imagined as a child.

The pressures of mainstream education, coupled with the culture of partying found amongst many people aged 16-25 left me with a deep seated desire to finally fit in. Diagnosticians had failed to tell me that I had a place in the world, so I followed the crowd. The crowd liked to take drugs and get drunk.

Through out my university years no one picked up on my Autistic neurology. I was labeled as anxious, depressed, and on one occasion (that would follow me for years) I was diagnosed with Emotionally Unstable Personality Disorder (sometimes known as Borderline Personality Disorder).

By this point the education system, and child and adolescent mental health services, had completely failed to perform their duty of care. They missed my diagnosis, and failed to tackle the bullying I had experienced for being different my whole life. I was feeling beaten down and broken. I tried to end my life on more than one occasion, I saw no point in continuing.

When I finally accessed the substance misuse service, they also failed to discern my Autistic nature. They continued with the EUPD label, my substance use got worse.

In the end, I made my own realisation that I wanted to live, and that’s what got me out of active addiction.

7 months after finding sobriety, I was diagnosed autistic. This was probably the single greatest moment of relief in my life. Not everything that followed would be perfect, but I had a better understanding of myself, and would soon discover the autistic community.

Had my autism been identified as a child, and my support needs have been met throughout my life, I am confident that I may have never turned towards substance use and addiction.

Life has been a battle, but I am happy where I am now. I truly love the work I do.

Don’t give up fighting, fight for your needs, fight for your child, and whoever you are, celebrate the beauty of your own diversity.

Published by David Gray-Hammond

David Gray-Hammond is an autistic mental health and addiction advocate living in the South East of England. He is in recovery from addiction and psychosis, as well as other complex mental health conditions. He was diagnosed as autistic seven months after achieving sobriety, and is resolved to share his experiences with the world in the hopes of being the person that he needed when he was younger.

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