A quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

The Autism Research Review International is quarterly publication of the Autism Research Institute

Winter, 2021 | Number 1, Volume 35

Substance abuse risk higher in those with ASD

Individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have a significantly elevated risk for drug or alcohol abuse, according to a new study from Taiwan. 

Jing-Syuan Huang and colleagues analyzed data from 6,599 young individuals with ASD and 26,396 controls. They found that individuals with ASD had a three-fold increased risk for drug use disorder and a two-fold higher risk for alcohol use disorder. Individuals with autism and a substance use disorder had more than a three-fold higher risk of death compared to controls during a follow-up of around 8 years. 

The researchers say the risk for substance abuse was highest for individuals with ASD who had certain comorbidities such as a tic disorder or an impulse control disorder. However, people with ASD had a higher risk of substance abuse compared to matched controls with the same comorbidities. 

The researchers found that individuals with ASD who took psychotropic agents for the treatment of their autism had a significantly reduced risk of developing a substance abuse. These individuals had a 40% reduced risk if they were taking one medication, and a 63% reduced risk if they were taking more than one. The researchers say future studies should see if non-pharmacological therapies, such as behavioral therapy, can similarly reduce the risk of developing substance abuse.


“Risk of substance use disorder and its associations with comorbidities and psychotropic agents in patients with autism,” Jing-Syuan Huang, Fu-Chi Yang, Wu-Chien Chien, Ta-Chuan Yeh, Chi-Hsiang Chung, Chia-Kuang Tsai, Shih-Jen Tsai, Sung-Sen Yang, Nian-Shen Tzeng, Mu-Hong Chen, and Chih-Sung Liang, JAMA Pediatrics, January 4, 2021 (online). Address: Jing-Syuan Huang, Department of Psychiatry, Beitou Branch, Tri-Service General Hospital, National Defense Medical Center, Taipei, Taiwan. 


“Untreated autism spectrum disorder tied to alcohol, drug abuse,” Kristen Monaco, MedPage Today, January 4, 2021.