Search for:
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;
      • Childhood drug-use
      • 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.

My new book on autism and addiction is now available!

I am really excited to tell you all that I ha e published a new book!

Unusual Medicine: Essays on Autistic identity and drug addiction

This book explores my personal experiences with being Autistic and addicted to drugs and alcohol. It considers my recovery and what was unique about my experiences.

Alongside this, I also bring my professional insights as a person who works with Autistic addicts. I make suggestions on basic changes to services that would make them more accessible, and how we can change societies framing of addiction.

It is currently available on Amazon in most territories, and will also soon be available from some other online retailers.

If you would like purchase a copy, see the buttons below!

Also, don’t forget that you can subscribe to my Substack for bonus content!

Addiction doesn’t strip us of our humanity

Trigger Warning: This article contains discussion of addiction, death, metaphors around death, dehumanisation, and mistreatment.

What defines us as a human?

Is it rhetorical ability? Emotional experiences? Perhaps the tools we use?

I would argue that one of the defining characteristics of our humanity is our ability to to recognise humanity in others, or perhaps more specifically, our ability to deny the humanity of others. Thanks to years of colonialism, warfare, and eurocentric beliefs, we have developed a strange sort of morality. This morality is what we use to ordain or deny a person or object as human/human-adjacent.

Unfortunately, when you are an addict, human-adjacent would be a big step up in how the world sees you. For as long as we have existed, we have been ignored, spoken over, driven out of our homes, and killed. This because contemporary spins on normative morality posit that to be an addict, is to be a monster. We are beyond help and reason.

We are what you fear your children will become.

The truth is that all judgements on addiction come from a place of moral relativism. Addiction is only seen as a moral failing because of cultural attitudes towards the behaviour associated with addiction. Fundamentally, it is seen as a moral failing, rather than a response to trauma and unmet support needs. If we could move society to a more “trauma-informed” culture, it is likely that attitudes towards addiction would alter quite significantly.

This isn’t to say that addiction doesn’t represent a risk to others. As addicts, we find ourselves doing things we never imagined or wanted ourselves doing. The lengths that one might go to in that desperation can lead to some truly awful consequences. To put it another way; we still have to take ownership of our shitty behaviour, whatever the reason. However, we also require some level of compassion. Compassion can go a long way one the journey to recovery.

Sadly, compassion doesn’t go all the way. We still need professional input from those who know how to deconstruct the circumstances of addiction, and help the person to rebuild their life. We need to build a life where it is easier not to engage with our addiction. This is made ever more difficult by the defunding of services that work to do such things. Besides that, we need to recognise that heroin, crack, and alcohol, are not the only substances that need attention from services. The world of addiction grows more complicated by the day, especially since the dawn of novel psychoactives.

Considering the future, we need to build a world where it is not necessary to become addicted to survive. A world where if we do become addicted, we are not shunned to the outer edges of our community. We need people to stop acting like addicts choose to be addicts. Addiction knows no boundaries, it can come for anyone.

Deconstructing societal and cultural attitudes will take a long time. Things like decriminalisation are important, but if done badly could actually reinforce moral judgements of substance users. For this reason, we need further longitudinal data looking at other countries that have done such things, seeing where the positives and the pitfalls lie.

It’s vital that we do this work, because moral judgement and “not in my neighbourhood” attitudes are literally killing addicts. The world has blood on its hands, and it doesn’t even realise it.

Addicts deserve their humanity.

Verified by MonsterInsights