Autism and Addiction

A major issue, from my point of view is the role addiction plays in folks on the spectrum. I have struggled with addictions for decades. However, I need to be clear that an addiction is not the same as a “special interest”. Addiction is characterized by a cycle of behaviour. First, there is the presence of stress which raises the level of anxiety, or excitement. This leads to the addictive behaviour, such as drinking alcohol or taking a drug like tobacco, OR playing a computer game. Some types of internet activity, such as online pornography can be very addictive, as can online gambling or shopping. This is a generalized description of addiction. Special interests are not addictive.

Some of my addiction struggles have included opiates, cigarettes and most recently, online pornography. I had always liked porn. I thought it was harmless. Then, there is an underlying issue of my penchant to want to hide. There was security knowing that I could hide from stuff that I could not handle, like crowded rooms or loud noises. Later, in adolescence, we would play war in a huge park, and I would always set up as a sniper. I could hide and see them but they couldn’t see me. Online porn allowed me to hide from reality and still “participate”. The reality is that what I hid from included my family, my work, and everything that I was doing. This began in the mid 90s when online porn first began to appear, and before it was found to be potentially addictive. I still struggle at times especially If I am very anxious.

For me, the major issue is how does my autism affect these behaviours, if it does? The answer, as best as I can see is yes, there is an interaction between addiction and autism. Autistics are known to have very high levels of what is called “baseline anxiety”, or the level of anxiety when not stressed. I am a high anxiety person. Addictions are self-reinforcing. When we do the addictive behaviour, we are rewarded (e.g. opiate or nicotine or an orgasm or winning a hand or game) for that behaviour. Autistics generally prefer very predictable situations. Addiction behaviours may serve to help provide this sense of predictability. Whenever I have had a lot of unpredictability in my life, I have found myself struggling with addiction issues.

I would be very interested in how addiction has affected other autistics, regardless of their age.

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