Autism & Alcohol-
Is there a Risk? Is there a Connection?
Autism is considered to be a “Spectrum Disorder”. If you were to put it in a diagram, it could look like an umbrella. Under the umbrella of autism are other disorders that fall under the category; ADD/ADHD, Asperger’s, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and others. With them come many symptoms; impulsivity, hypersensitivity, the need for constant excitement & stimulation, isolation, etc. There have been many research studies on Autism & alcohol; the genetic link to autistic people being addicted to alcohol, the likelihood a child born of mother who drank during her pregnancy will have autism, as well as some studies have claimed that alcohol actually helps some people with autism (of legal age, responsible adults). As with many things, there are studies that prove yay or nay with just about any issue. Yet, when it comes to issues like Autism, there is even heavier debate & questioning going on now because it’s an issue that has been brought to the forefront of media, minds, and hearts of society. In a way, it falls in line with many studies related to alcohol & alcoholism that have been done for decades.
Alcohol has been around since the beginning of history. It was even the cause of a somewhat major “era” in history called the Prohibition back in the early 20th Century. Since then, there has been research done regarding alcohol & genetics, even before the issue of Autism came about. One of the most common ones was whether someone is more likely to become an alcoholic if they had parents or family members who were (genetics). Since the increased interest of Autism studies, there has been an increased concern in the possible genetic connection between those that are autistic & the use of alcohol. Part of that is believed to be because of a common symptom connected to Autism & the disorders related to it-impulsivity. People with ADD/ADHD, for example, are known to be somewhat impulsive (every person is different). Some people with this disorder are also considered to be “thrill-seekers”, they need the excitement to keep their brain focused or stimulated.
Is it possible that mothers who drink alcohol during their pregnancy will give birth to an autistic child? There are researchers who believe there is a strong likelihood of this happening. As you may know, there are always exceptions to the rule, but they’re speaking of the likelihood, the chance, the risk. Studies spanning across the globe make claim that even a low consumption of alcohol can cause autism & other behavioral/learning problems in children. Yet there are those who aren’t convinced. For example, there are some that believe if the claim of predisposition to alcohol in-utero causing autism were true, then children who were born in the 1920’s to the 1960’s would’ve been born with autism. Many mothers during these times had no problem with having a martini or two. On the other hand, the mothers of today who grew up around books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” that instruct mothers to stay away from alcohol would’ve seen a decline in children born with autism. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. These studies aren’t saying that those who were born in the early years didn’t or don’t have autism, it’s only stating that those who were born then should’ve had a stronger likelihood of being born with it due to their mother’s martini or scotch consumption.
As mentioned earlier, those with disorder like ADD, Autism, and Asperger’s have certain symptoms that are common; impulsivity & the constant need for stimulation or excitement are two of them. Because of this, there are statistics connecting alcohol use, along with other addictions & substance abuse, with those who either have ADD/ADHD, or who likely have it but haven’t been diagnosed. In the October 2003 issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research have identified a distinct phenotype or “profile” of individuals with co-existing ADHD and alcoholism. Although previous research & studies suggested a commonality between substance abuse like alcoholism & ADHD or Autism, they couldn’t find a genetic connection to substantiate these suggestions. “Our results indicate that individuals with persisting ADHD symptoms in adulthood seem to be at high risk of developing an alcohol-use disorder,” said Monika Johann, medical doctor and research associate at the University of Regensburg. This study at the University of Regensburg also found “adult alcoholics with ADHD had a significantly higher daily and record intake of alcohol per month, an earlier age of onset of alcohol (& other drug) dependence, a higher frequency of thoughts about suicide, a greater number of court proceedings, etc.” Dr. Johann believes there is need for “the development and evaluation of specialized treatment programs that address ‘phenotypical specifics’ as well as co-existing disorders such as alcoholism and ADHD.” “ADHD seems to be highly underestimated in adulthood,” said Johann, “yet seems to be an important risk factor for the development of alcohol dependence.” But what is it about alcohol that lures someone with ADHD to become dependent on it? I don’t believe it is so much the chemical part of the alcohol itself as it is the thrill that comes from drinking, the feeling of “escape” one has when using a substance they’re dependent on. A person who drinks alcohol sometimes feels at the moment, the feel better, they have stresses or worries. That in itself is reason for many to use it; those who are depressed, stressed, etc.
Alcohol has been around since the beginning of time. It has been the subject of many laws, eras in history, as well as many studies that were conducted. Autism, on the other hand, hasn’t been an issue researched & studied until more recently. Many of the symptoms of those with Autism, Asperger’s, & ADD/ADHD lead researchers to believe there is a higher likelihood of substance abuse. Yet the correlation between the two is still of great debate; whether alcohol causes autism, whether those who have autism or one of the related disorders like ADHD are more likely to use alcohol, and whether a mother who uses alcohol during pregnancy is at risk of giving birth to an autistic child. No one knows for sure what causes autism, nor do they have a cure for it. But the more we can learn about autism, as well as substance abuse, the more we can reach out & help those who suffer from both.