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The Dangers of Self-Medicating Autism

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders are more likely to suffer from depression as a result of the social isolation that is a common symptom of their disorder. In fact, in a 1992 clinical study of 64 children and adolescents with autism, it was found that depression was the most common psychiatric disorder in the group, with one in 15 presenting symptoms  – and that doesn’t account for changes in diagnostic strategy over the past 22 years, or any adult patients. Now, psychiatrists are even discovering that known genetic variations account for 17% to 29% of the risk for a wide variety of mental disorders, including autism and Asperger’s, and that the risk for one condition is strongly linked with the risk of others.

Because of these heightened risk factors, individuals with autism or Asperger’s are more likely to self-medicate as a coping strategy. While self-medicating can be a slippery slope for anyone, the risk of addiction is particularly strong among individuals with autism and Asperger’s. Addiction is often accompanied by substance abuse, which is not always easy to spot with socially-avoidant individuals, and can often go unchecked – to devastating results for both the individual and their loved ones. This is why therapy is an incredibly important and beneficial part of treating autism spectrum disorders, and should be pursued as early as possible during the manifestation of any depressive symptoms.

The role of the therapist isn’t simply to diagnose and prescribe, but to provide a safe space in which to collaborate with the patient on their treatment. Self-medication remains highly ineffective in addressing the core issues of ASDs and Asperger’s patients; as such, it is extremely important that treatment focuses on the individual’s autism, not simply its emotional effects. Together with a mental health professional, individuals with ASDs and Asperger’s can learn healthy coping mechanisms to gain both control and confidence.

To learn more about autism spectrum disorders and Asperger’s, as well as Dr. Clatch’s approach to treatment, click here!

Dr. Michael Clatch, Psy. D
Posted in: Autism
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