A study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have an increased risk of developing substance use disorder (SUD). Comorbid ASD and SUD were also associated with higher mortality.
The retrospective analysis used data from Taiwan’s national insurance registry to identify a total of 6,599 individuals with ASD and 26,396 age-, sex-, and index date-matched controls. The researchers calculated the adjusted hazard ratios (aHRs) for SUD, including alcohol and substance use disorder, and calculated the risk of mortality.
Their findings show that a diagnosis of autism was associated with a significantly increased risk of SUD. This risk was higher in those who had behavioural comorbidities and those who did not receive psychotropic agents. The mortality risk was higher in patients with autism and co-occurring substance use disorder than in non-ASD controls with or without substance use disorder.
The findings clarify the vulnerability of patients with ASD to the development of SUD. However, the investigators say their findings also raise questions, namely the underlying mechanisms for the association.
The authors also note that, because ASD is a condition with repetitive and restricted behaviours, the risk of behavioural addiction is another important area for future study.