Substance use disorder in Asperger syndrome: An investigation into the development and maintenance of substance use disorder by individuals with a diagnosis of Asperger syndrome
Tickle, Anna C.
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BACKGROUND: Recent research has suggested that the prevalence of problematic substance use within the Asperger syndrome population has previously been underestimated. Furthermore, there is some indication that problematic substance use might take place to manage the traits of Asperger syndrome; however this possibility has yet to be examined in detail. This study aimed to address this omission by exploring individuals' perceptions of their substance use in relation to their diagnosis of Asperger syndrome. METHODS: Eight participants were recruited from either a specialist Asperger syndrome service or a drug and alcohol service. Participants were interviewed regarding their views of which factors led to their development and maintenance of problematic substance use, specifically in relation to their experience of having been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome. Thematic analysis was conducted on the interview transcripts. RESULTS: Six main themes were identified: self-medication; social facilitation; discrepancy between need and support; defining problematic substance use; substance use of peers, and recreational use of substances. The two themes of social facilitation and self-medication are focused on within this paper as they most closely reflect the more prominent bodies of literature in relation to the research aim. CONCLUSIONS: Participants reported that substances were used to act as a social facilitator to compensate for social deficits by increasing confidence in social settings and increasing participants' ease with which they communicate. The self-medication of psychological distress was reported and was associated with depression, anxiety and sleep difficulties. The study ends with a reflection on the method of data collection, the implications for clinical practice and suggestions for future research.