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Aspergers Teens and Alcohol Abuse

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
  • irritability
  • 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


Anonymous said...

Does it work? I haven't really drank alcohol before, just took some sips from my dad when I was little. I should try it the next time I spend time with my family.

Anonymous said...

I no longer drink in public because even one small drink is enough to amplify all my worst, least tolerable qualities. More than one drink is just a Very Bad Idea around other people, especially people I don't know well. Doubly especially anyone I have to deal with again in the future. Triply especially around anyone who has any power over any aspect of my life.

I save drinking for at home when I know that, barring an emergency, I won't have to leave my house.

Anonymous said...

My experience with alcohol was inconsistent. Sometimes it would loosen me up, sometimes it wouldn't. I've come to the conclusion that due to that and it's damaging effects, it is a waste of time.

Anonymous said...

I became an alcoholic but I believe I was one before I ever picked up a drink. It did make me feel good and more relaxed and more social but sometimes it lets down your inhibitions too much and you just end up humiliating yourself. I would just say listen to your body and if after a drink you have an overwhelming craving for another and then another, then be very careful. The last few years of my active addiction were hell. Some people thought I was going to die. The reason I say I think I always was one but just latent is that I clearly remember being 6 and asking my father for a taste of his beer. He gave me a spoonful, thinking I would hate the taste, but even back then I wanted more. But don't misunderstand , I'm not a drinking is bad person, just watch your reaction to it.

Anonymous said...

I became an alcoholic but I believe I was one before I ever picked up a drink. It did make me feel good and more relaxed and more social but sometimes it lets down your inhibitions too much and you just end up humiliating yourself. I would just say listen to your body and if after a drink you have an overwhelming craving for another and then another, then be very careful. The last few years of my active addiction were hell. Some people thought I was going to die. The reason I say I think I always was one but just latent is that I clearly remember being 6 and asking my father for a taste of his beer. He gave me a spoonful, thinking I would hate the taste, but even back then I wanted more. But don't misunderstand , I'm not a drinking is bad person, just watch your reaction to it.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, but drinking has never made me feel good. It just amplifies my analytical mind. I tend to notice minute details a lot more. Like I will become enthralled by the lights or people around me. It doesn't loosen me up. I'm still in control of myself. The one time when I did get sloshed completely, I passed out and could barely remember the evening. Then again I'm neither an aspie nor an NT

Anonymous said...

i think it probably varies from person to person.
sometimes when i drink i feel very relaxed, easygoing and happy and other times i get even more nervous and paranoid than i already am when i'm sober.
...but during those good buzzes, it just feels amazing sometimes to not have any anxiety whatsoever. i don't even have to think about what to say or worry about what other people are thinking, it's just great. i think i'm still annoying/off cue when i'm drunk though (but i just forget/don't care)

Anonymous said...

I grew up around alcoholism (Both my dad and stepdad are boozehounds), and that turned me away from alcohol. My coworkers seem surprised when I tell them I don't drink. I just don't want to end up the same way as those two stinking drunks. So whenever I order anything at a bar, I just get a virgin strawberry daiquiri. I don't care if it's a girlie drink--if it tastes good, drink it.

Anonymous said...

Hello, my name is blastoff and I'm an alcoholic.

Alcohol makes me less anxious, and I get "smarter" and "funnier" thrown in. Alcohol makes all my problems go away and it helps me feel like a normal person, not the misfit-loser that I am. And did I mention that there is nothing more comforting in the world than rum? Being loaded, even just a little, makes everything better. It makes *me* better.

So, to answer your question, alcohol may help quite a bit in relieving some anxiety. Heck, NTs use it for this all the time.

Be careful. Better yet, don't.

Anonymous said...

Just about everyone I've ever heard from says alcohol makes them less anxious. But having Asperger's or anything else would make that no difference. But using alcohol as a way to relieve anxiety is a very good reason why people become alcoholics, so I really wouldn't recommend it.

Anonymous said...

Caffeine knocks me out; it puts me to sleep far faster than alcohol does.
Though it's a moot point since I can't do caffeine anymore since I developed fibrocystic breast disease. The caffeine causes painful tumors.

John said...

Like many people, at the start of the year, I made a resolution to decrease my alcohol intake.

Drink Less in Seven Days by Georgia Foster has really helped me stick to this resolution. Georgia is a clinical hypnotherapist and alongside the written version of the book, there are also 4 "Hypnosis Hub" recordings that readers are encouraged to access to help them with the program.

One of the great things about Drink Less in Seven Days is that Georgia (and I"m going to call her Georgia because she kind of feels like a friend) is totally non-judgemental about how much you drink, why you drink, why you feel you drink too much etc. I feel that this is an area where people carry a lot of shame and negative feelings and to have someone who approaches an emotional issue like this with absolute objectivity is helpful in driving the desired behaviours. She's on your side!

There are two main parts to Drink Less in Seven Days. The first is how your amygdala (the part of your brain that deals with emotions and fear/stress responses) can actually work against your efforts to quit or reduce your drinking. It shows you how to move your decision to drink away from this very instinctive part of your brain to your prefrontal cortex which is the part of your brain that is more concerned with considered decision-making.

I found this part of the book fascinating, particularly the parts where she spoke about silencing your inner critic.

However, it was the second part of the book, where Georgia broke down different personality types. what triggers them to drink and how to circumvent these triggers that I found most useful. (Also fascinating, if like me you love a good theory of behaviour and the ability to proclaim "Yes!!!! That's me!"). Because it makes total sense right? If you drink out of social anxiety (which is me a little bit) your methods to success will likely be different to someone who drinks because everyone around you is (also me a little bit).

The biggest take away for me was starting to understand what triggers my wanting to drink and learning alternative strategies should I decide not to. I think a really important thing about Drink Less in Seven Days is that it is NOT about quitting drinking altogether. It is about cutting down to a level that you are comfortable with, whatever that is for you. And this feels more manageable than quitting altogether.

The cru of this type of book though is does it work?

So here's the real deal. I started this program in January. It's now March and I can count the times I have drunk alcohol on one hand. During this time I have been to pubs, bars and restaurants, entertained at home and been entertained at other people's homes so it's not like I have been hiding myself away. I have been around alcohol and people drinking as much as I ever was.

Will I drink again? Almost definitely. For me, this experiment was never about giving up altogether. And I have far too much fun making cocktails for this to give it up completely! However, I feel that moving forward I will be able to drink in a more mindful considered way.

Thank you to Georgia Foster for a thoroughly fascinating book that does exactly what it says on the cover!

Here's a link to The 7 Days To Drink Less Online Alcohol Reduction Program.


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