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Asperger's Syndrome and Substance Abuse

Pain, loneliness and despair can lead to problems with drugs, sex and alcohol/drugs. In their overwhelming need to fit in and make friends, some Aspergers teens fall into the wrong high school crowds. Teens who abuse substances will use the "Aspie's" naivety to get him to buy or carry drugs and liquor for their group.

Growing from childhood into adulthood can be very difficult for those diagnosed with Aspergers, and the typical pressure of drinking can lead to substance abuse, especially since substance abuse can seem like a temporary “cure-all” or an escape method for coping with other issues. If the symptoms of Aspergers have never been successfully treated or acknowledged, this can make alcohol/drugs abuse an even more likelihood, just as there is an increased risk for substance abuse for anyone with untreated disorder such as depression.

Despite wanting to have friends and engage with others, the awkward attempts and social deficits of individuals with Aspergers often make them the outsider in their peer groups. “Aspies” are often bullied or made the butt of mean-spirited jokes. Older children, teens and adults may simply be ostracized. Their repeated, but often rebuked attempts at friendships, and their painful awareness of their differences from their peers, often lead individuals with Aspergers to develop anxiety and/or depression, which may lead to alcoholism and/or drug abuse as a way to cope.

Aspergers comes not only with its own characteristics, but also with a wide variety of comorbid conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive–compulsive disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), drug abuse, alcoholism, and relationship difficulties (including family/marital problems). It may predispose individuals to commit offences and can affect their mental capacity and level of responsibility as well as their ability to bear witness or to be tried. The syndrome can color psychiatric disorder, affecting both presentation and management, for children and adults across a wide range of functional ability.

It is important to understand that Aspergers does not cause substance abuse. Substance abuse can be caused by a number of circumstances, including social reasons, depression, and even genetics. However, those with Aspergers may be slightly more susceptible to substance abuse, just as those with depression or bipolar may also be. Alcohol/drugs is often seen as a way to self-medicate oneself or deal with problems. Perfectly “healthy” people are just at as much risk for substance abuse as someone with Aspergers may be.

Effects on Families and Relationships—

There is often a tremendous amount of stress on families (parents, grandparents, siblings) of children and teens with Aspergers, as well as spouses who are married to adults with Aspergers. Not everyone reacts similarly, nor do all families experience the full range of potential issues, but some of the issues to be aware of include the following:

• Having a romantic or intimate partner with Aspergers can affect the relationship in a number of ways, most notably in the areas of communication and emotional give-and-take. Incorrect assumptions made by the individual with Aspergers often lead to self-protective strategies of distancing oneself entirely and then not responding at all to one's partner. An emphasis by the non-affected partner on expressing feelings is likely to lead to frustration and dissatisfaction

• Parents may experience a range of concerns and emotions as they attempt to understand what caused the disorder. They may ask, "Was it my fault?" and inappropriately assign self-blame. They may feel guilt and grief over having an individual in their family they love who will suffer a lifelong disability. They may wonder and worry about what others will think, and feel personally inadequate. They may fret about how they will explain Aspergers to their family and friends, what can they do to help, and what financial resources will be necessary to help. And, they may worry about what will happen to this individual in the future, when the parents are no longer there to support him or her

• Siblings may often feel embarrassed around peers, frustrated by not having the type of relationship with their sibling that they wanted or expected, and/or angry that the child with Aspergers requires so much of the family's time and resources at their expense


Treatments are not cures, but there are a number of different interventions that have been shown to be effective in reducing symptoms associated with Aspergers. There are primarily three different environments for receiving services: schools, the physician's office, and various specialists' offices (including rehabilitation therapists, and mental health professionals).

School districts are required to provide a range of services from support in the mainstream classroom to special education classes, depending upon the needs of the individual.

A physician's treatment usually involves prescribing medication to address symptoms associated with Aspergers: attentional issues, obsessive-compulsive issues, anxiety and/or depression.

Rehabilitation therapy includes speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, vision therapists, and art or music therapists.

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