This post exposes the unexplored problem of teens with Aspergers (high functioning autism) using alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with everyday life.
Alcohol can relieve the anxiety of social situations and make those with Aspergers feel as though they can fit in. However, reliance on alcohol can lead the teenager down a path of self-destruction and exacerbate existing problems. For many teens with Aspergers, a strategy which begins as a simple coping behavior becomes an addiction.
Aspergers teens drink alcohol for a variety of reasons:
- forget reality
- temporarily alleviate worry
- temporarily improve self-esteem
- to change their mood
- to deal with social anxiety
- to feel carefree and brave
- to feel less afraid
- to gain acceptance
Environments which are too stressful are typically avoided by teens with Aspergers (e.g., where sensory input is too high to manage). If avoidance is not possible, coping strategies are put in place to cope with anxiety. The school environment is not always a protected environment in terms of avoiding anxiety, and teens with Aspergers are conscious of this, and this is where alcohol drinking often starts.
Alcohol will affect cognitive processing and can cause damage to the frontal lobe due to its toxicity. When under the influence of drink, it becomes harder to read facial expressions for example, thus the negative effects of alcohol on Aspergers may be more pronounced. Other emotional, non-verbal behavior may also be impaired such as processing social information. These effects are another reason why being fully aware of the effects of excess alcohol is useful from an Aspergers perspective.
The “co-existence of alcohol problems and mental health are very common” in general. Many teens “self medicate” their mental health problems using alcohol, and studies suggest that social phobia is an important factor in the development of alcoholism in general.
Though alcoholism applies to many teens outside the spectrum (e.g., to manage the anxiety associated with social situations), the greater difficulties experienced in this area by those with Aspergers means that the subsequent higher anxiety levels lead many to experience social anxiety disorder. As a result, teens with Asperger have an above average chance of developing alcoholism.
There are many signs that may indicate an increasing reliance on alcohol:
- drinking in secret and continuing to do so even after it has caused significant problems
- ensuring that it is always readily available
- excessive consumption
- genuine difficulty in coping without alcohol for any length of time
- short temper
- using alcohol as a casual relaxant and social lubricant
The research linking alcoholism to Aspergers is still growing. There are teens out there who don’t know they have Aspergers, but they also have a hard time acknowledging the fact that they abuse alcohol. A correct diagnosis for a teenager is a critical first step in understanding his condition and maintaining good long term health care.
Often with someone who has Aspergers, the initial problem starts when they are young. This is a condition that, as a child growing up, they are most often singled-out as being very different. As a result of this difference, most young people are treated with taunts, bullying, and other forms of mistreatment. This makes a teenager with Aspergers often feel bad and look for ways to cope with day-to-day life.
When a teenager with Aspergers gets to the point where they are struggling to go through each day, it can be an easy choice to turn to alcohol. Alcohol is easily available, and most teens do see it as an acceptable thing to do. That makes alcohol an easy item to choose if someone with Aspergers were looking at a way to get relief.
What Parents Can Do to Help—
1. Be open-minded to the fact that an adolescent with Aspergers may not have many friends, but he can get along with a few. Somehow being with numerous friends overwhelms an adolescent with Aspergers because he lacks the ability to associate with different personalities.
2. Converse with him when he gets home from school. While he relaxes, serve him snack and ask him about his lessons, teachers and classmates. Test him if he knows the names of his classmates. If he fails to mention their names, explain to him that he should know them because that is how it is in school – classmates should know each other.
3. Know his classmates. Go out of your way and find out who his classmates are. Try to spark his interest by telling amusing anecdotes about his classmates. Do this on regular basis until such time that the youngster’s curiosity is elicited.
4. Monitor the youngster’s performance in school. Find out his inclinations and encourage him to participate in activities that interest him. If he is good in math, make him join Math Club. If he is good at playing chess, enlist him with the Chess Club. He may refuse at first but what is important is you push him, though not necessarily force him. If it does not work, or if he is not ready to get into such associations, leave him alone in the meantime and wait for a better chance.
5. Realize that a teen with Aspergers is not mentally handicapped. On the contrary, they are mostly intellectually endowed, only that they encounter hardships in understanding the concept of social relationships. They do not have many friends and are often looked upon as anti-social as they refuse to mingle with classmates and friends.
6. Talk to his teachers about his condition. Ask them to include him in various classroom activities and to pair him off with buddies in doing class projects.
7. Understand that Aspergers is a disorder that occurs to a youngster who is going through the growth process in the physical, emotional and psychological aspects. Teens are mostly the ones who are inflicted with this disorder as they grapple to learn social skills.
Often, the way someone with Aspergers will find their way out of a problem with alcohol is the same way someone without Aspergers finds their way out of their drinking problem. It is done first by recognizing they have a problem with alcohol and next by seeking help in stopping their abuse. This can be help from friends and family, or it can include help and assistance by a program tailored specifically for that need.
If you think someone you know might have Aspergers or an alcohol problem, or both, there are many local agencies’ that offer help and assistance or can direct you to someone who can help. Don’t let someone you know suffer needlessly.
Aspergers in an adolescent is not as bad as it seems. The youngster can improve and develop his social skills in time. You just have to be patient and gentle with him. However if you think the youngster’s condition requires professional help, seek the counsel of a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist.
When seeking assistance, it is important to try and identify a professional who is aware of the characteristics of Aspergers and the overlap between it and alcohol.
My Aspergers Teen: Discipline for Defiant Aspergers Teens