Teens with Asperger’s Syndrome and Substance Abuse

Eileen Bailey Health Guide
  • While there are no statistics to show a higher incident rate of substance abuse in teens with Asperger's syndrome (AS), these problems do exist and parents are left wondering what to do and how to handle the situation. A blog on MyAsperger's Child states, "Often parents approach the issue of drug and alcohol use as simply a discipline issue." But without looking for and treating or correcting the underlying issue, the problem won't simply go away.


    Some experts speculate that Aspies may abuse illegal drugs and alcohol for a variety of reasons. Some of those reasons include:

    • Teens with AS frequently struggle to fit in with their peers. Using drugs and alcohol may be one way they feel part of a group.
    • Substance abuse may be a way of "self-medicating" depression, anxiety or coping with loneliness
    • Because teens with AS are often more dependent on their parents for support, using drugs or alcohol may be a way of trying to gain independence and rebel against parents.

    According the book, Apserger's Syndrome and Alcohol: Drinking to Cope, by Matthew Tinsley and Sarah Hendrickx, alcohol may be a more preferable substance for those with AS. Because Aspies want to follow the rules, they, even as adults, may choose alcohol because it is legal. Additionally, finding illegal or street drugs requires some degree of social skills and Aspies may find it easier to use more accessible substances. Even so, parents need to be aware of the potential for your teen to abuse either alcohol or drugs.

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    Warning Signs of Substance Abuse


    The following warning signs are not necessarily specific to AS and you will need to view these signs against your teen's behavior. For example, a common sign of substance abuse is become withdrawn. Your Aspie may be naturally withdrawn and it may be difficult to discern what withdrawn means. Think about your teen's regular everyday behavior and measure these signs against that, rather than measuring them against a neurotypical teen.


    Personality Changes - mood swings, going from being "up" to being depressed, being irritable or showing a lack of interest in activities he previously enjoyed (such as special interests)


    Academic - grades dropping, reports of work handed in late or not at all, having discipline problems at school, complaints from teachers of negative attitude

    Physical signs - being more tired than normal or in cases of amphetamines, suddenly having great energy, complaints of physical ailments that don't seem to have a cause


    Family - withdrawing from the family, not wanting to participate in family events and activities, frequently starting arguments


    Social - having new set of friends and becoming defensive if you question the reputation of the friends, getting into trouble


    If you are seeing any of the above signs, it doesn't necessarily mean your Aspie is using alcohol or drugs but could also signal a physical or emotional problem, such as depression.


    What to Do

    If you are concerned about the possibility of your Aspie using alcohol or other drugs, you may want to start with a medical evaluation to rule out any other causes of the behaviors you are seeing. For example, depression in teens with Asperger's syndrome is common and you want to make sure you are treating the right cause of the behavior. But if you are worried that your teen is using alcohol or drugs, The Anti Drug suggests the following:

    • Learn as much as you can about alcohol and drug use in teens.
    • Talk with your teen. Make sure you choose a time when both you and your teen are calm.
    • Explain what signs you have be seeing and how you feel about it. Be specific about the behaviors you have observed and why you are concerned about them.
    • Explain your rules about alcohol and drug use. If you have a zero tolerance policy in your house, explain this rule. Tell your teen the consequences for breaking this rule and give him the steps you will take to enforce your policy.
    • Be sure to continue talking to your Aspie and monitor the situation. Ask him to invite his new friends to your house so you can get to know them. Make an attempt to get to know their parents as well. The more involved you are in the situation, the better you can continue to monitor his activities.


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    Asperger's Syndrome and Alcohol: Drinking to Cope, 2008, Matthew Tinsley and Sarah Hendrickx, Jessica Kingsley Publications, London, pp. 16-19


    "Parent Brochure," Date Unknown, Staff Writer, The Anti Drug


    "Teens: Alcohol and Other Drugs," 2011, March, Staff Writer, Academy of Adolescent Psychiatry



Published On: March 14, 2012