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Is There a Link Between Autism and Alcoholism?

The idea that there is a link between autism and alcoholism has been around for a while. There has already been a couple of studies suggesting that this is the case, but new research recently reported in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs adds further evidence for the claim. It is important to keep in mind that there is no suggestion that all alcoholics would be classified as dealing with autism, but it does seem that a statistically significant proportion of these individuals do.

What is Autism?

There have been some depictions of autism on TV, in movies, and in books, but there is still a lot of confusion about what it actually is. One of the important things to understand is that it is a type of spectrum disorder; this means that there can be a great deal of variation in how people experience the condition. The one thing that all of those on the autism spectrum share is dealing with a condition involving difficulty socially interacting as well as verbal and non-verbal communication. Autism is also classified as a developmental disorder, which means that it involves problems with the process of development that humans go through from early childhood to adulthood.

There is actually more than one type of autism. Asperger syndrome is a mild type of autism whereby the individual would be considered high functioning; it may not be obvious to others that the individual is autistic. Classic autism symptoms are more obvious and the individual in this situation would be classified as having an intellectual disability. There is also atypical autism in which the symptoms are particularly mild.

The usual symptoms of autism include:

  • children who don't learn to speak before three years of age
  • problems with social interaction
  • the person seems to have problems understanding verbal and non-verbal communication
  • discomfort with any change in routine
  • short attention span
  • problems maintaining a conversation
  • lower than average threshold for pain
  • aggressive behaviour - this can involve self-abuse
  • performing repeated movements
  • obsessions with objects
  • sensitive to light and sound
  • inability to engage in pretend play
  • only enjoys a limited number of activities - is resistant to new activities
  • prefers to use gestures when communicating instead of words.

The individual with autism may only have some of these symptoms, while the severity of each symptom will depend on where he or she is on the autism spectrum.

There is currently no effective way to cure autism but there are things that can be done to control the symptoms. This usually includes a multidisciplinary approach involving occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, and medical staff. The goal is to assist the individual in achieving the best possible quality of life.

Latest Link between Autism and Alcoholism

The study reported recently in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs was conducted in Australia, involving 3,080 twins. The study did not specifically focus on autism but it did monitor traits associated with this condition, including difficulties with social interaction and predisposition towards engaging in repetitive behaviours. The results did suggest a link between these autistic traits and the likelihood of developing alcoholism. It also suggested that those having some degree of autism are more likely to drink alone, meaning they are more likely to be drinking for effect rather than as a social tool. The fact that the person is drinking alone also means that they are not going to be around positive drinking role models. It seems to be that those individuals who have just a few traits of autism are most at risk - those with classic autism may be far less likely to fall into addiction.

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