This week we had the opportunity to attend Autism Oxford‘s Attwood on Aspergers 2 day conference. An often overlooked theme is the danger of substance abuse in individuals with Autistic Spectrum Condition. Professor Tony Attwood candidly discussed his personal experience of substance/alcohol abuse in a family member with ASC, in his words “alcohol and marijuana caused x to feel an inner peace that x had never felt before. But as x grew older, x required stronger drugs…If I could turn back time I would have taught x strategies to help to deal with their anxiety…”.
We have met countless individuals on the spectrum who have engaged in substance abuse to help them “feel normal”. Some started using alcohol or drugs (illegal or pharmaceutical) to be accepted by their peers, some started using out of curiousity, some started using to numb the anxiety and / or the pain of “not fitting in” and some started because of a combination of the above.
Prolonged substance abuse can result in further isolation, addiction, further (physical and mental) health problems and in some cases, fatality. Furthermore, as Professor Attwood pointed out; the longer that an individual engages in substance abuse, the more (be that an increase in dosage or a stronger drug) the individual will have to consume in order to achieve the same effects as they did originally.
With great sadness, this week we discovered that one of the first people with ASC that we met in the early stages of our journey has passed away as a result of their own battle with substance abuse.
In the work that we do, we hope to encourage acknowledgement and acceptance of difference. Massive steps need to be taken to effect societal change and we can only hope that the work that we do contributes in some small way.
It is our responsibility, as a society, to work together to help to make services more available for all at-risk populations.
There are no words that can begin to describe the grief that is felt amongst the team. Our thoughts are with their family and loved ones, all people who have lost their loved ones to substance abuse, any individuals who engage in substance abuse and anyone whose life has been impacted by substance abuse.
If you, or anyone you know, has been affected by any of the issues discussed in this post here are some online resources that we have found that might help:
Lifeline lists various organisations that deal with different kinds of substance abuse.
Frank is a charity that offers friendly, confidential advice about drugs and they also signpost to local services in your area.
The Samaritans are available 24 hours a day to provide confidential emotional support for people who are experiencing feelings of distress, despair or suicidal thoughts.