Addiction Rehab for Autistic Adults


Table of Contents

Everyone is Different

Every human experiences life differently and grieves traumas in their own way. Similarly, autistic people see and experience life differently than non-autistic people. When finding addiction rehab for autistic adults, it is crucial to find a path that meets all of the patient’s needs.

Likewise, every recovery journey manifests differently and requires personalized treatment, regardless of whether someone is neurodivergent or neurotypical. Above all, everyone struggling with addiction needs compassion, patience, and specialized medical care.

Neurodivergent and Neurotypical

To the point, autism is a neurodivergence that processes information differently than someone neurotypical would. A neurotypical person processes data and information in scientifically typical ways.

Neurodivergence can manifest as:

  • Autism
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADHD
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • and many more.

Additionally, autistic people commonly struggle with sensory sensitivities, such as:

  • Lights can feel too bright
  • Physical texture can feel too nauseating (literally)
  • Sounds can become too intense or grating
  • Taste texture can feel too overwhelming

Like autism, these sensitivities fall on a spectrum specific to the individual. Also, an autistic person may experience all, some, or none of the sensitivities listed.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Despite calls for diversity, government officials continue to vote on and pass mental and behavioral health policies written by neurotypicals regarding medical care for the neurodivergent community. To start, some autism organizations promote masking autistic traits by utilizing Applied Behavioral Analysis, commonly known as “ABA Therapy.”

autistic adults

This damaging practice teaches children to hide or disguise their autistic traits, like stimming, to “better fit” into neurotypical society. Millions of autistic people have spoken out against the harmful effects of ABA therapies. Yet, misrepresentation organizations are still at large and perceived as credible sources of autism education.

Autism Does Not Need a Cure

Essentially, autistic people need a safe environment to be themselves. Autism is a spectrum, and autistic people need assistance managing more intense symptoms, such as communication delays. Neurodivergence deserves to celebrate its diversity; it is not a disease requiring a cure.


Misrepresentation in Society

The media’s most widely popular symbol for autism is one that autistic people do not identify with. The puzzle piece (in any form) is offensive to the autistic community, as this symbol implies that autistic people are “missing something” or are not whole. This message is corrosive to their self-image, isn’t true, and needs to change.

In continuance, other media-driven autistic themes are equally harmful. For example, when surfing the internet for “autism” images, you will find pages of search results with crayons, building blocks, and other cues of infancy.

Child-like themes fuel a misinterpretation that autistic people experience some type of youthful intellectual cap, which could not be further from the truth.

These are just a few examples of how societal misrepresentation negatively impacts autistic people and increases the potential to develop a substance use disorder.

What Do I Need to Know About Addiction?

Addiction is a disease that rewires the brain to prioritize drugs or alcohol. Substance Use Disorder (SUD) can develop in both children and adults. In some cases, addiction can develop through no fault of the individual, e.g., a newborn baby of an addicted mother or a physician’s misprescription. Next, addiction is treatable with medicine, therapy, and support.

What Does Addiction Do?

Drugs are chemically designed to alter brain chemistry. For example, pharmaceuticals, like doctor-prescribed medications, are precisely measured to produce safe and effective results against different imbalances.

Conversely, illicit drugs are chemically designed to dump dopamine into the brain’s reward center to experience euphoria.

Eventually, the high wears off, and the brain feels the sudden drop into depression. These depressive episodes are due to a lack of dopamine in their system. Deep depressive episodes are a catalyst for repetitive drug use.

Chasing the euphoric feeling is how many people quickly find themselves addicted to something. Like a virus, addiction looks for places to hide inside of people to grow and spread.

Until society grows in education and compassion, misunderstood groups will continue to suffer.

Substance Use Disorder

In summary, personal and generational traumas, a familiar root cause of SUD, typically create trauma responses, commonly turning to drugs or alcohol.

For instance, the Native American tribes continue to struggle with addiction from their shared generational trauma.

Alcoholism and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a joint pain felt by so many tribal members to this day. They have so much to heal from that a full recovery would take years of intense familial and individual therapies.

Additionally, Substance Use Disorder can stem from mental illness. People cannot help how they were born; mental illness is often genetic or hereditary. Regardless of origin, people struggling with addiction need help, not shame or punishment.

How Does Addiction Affect Autistic People?

Generally, addiction behaves similarly among humans, regardless of if someone is autistic or not. This is because the chemical processes of drugs that bring dopamine to the brain’s pleasure center remain consistent.

Neurodivergent brain pathways communicate the same information to the brain’s reward center. It is the reactions that vary from person to person.

Autistic Differences in Addiction

In substances like ecstasy, physical texture sensors become extremely sensitive. This hypersensitivity can cause an autistic adult to crave a sensation and an emotion. When combined, those dual cravings can serve as an anchor for addiction to manifest. Therefore, the attachment to details during use can create more links to use drugs or alcohol again.

addiction rehab for autistic adults

In this way, autistic people can feel the effects of addiction like most people but can suffer more due to the intensity of details. Also, autistic people tend to become frustrated and angry when comforts or schedules change.

Changes in routine can result in autistic aggression behaviors, meltdowns, or panic attacks, as the structure is key to daily productivity and functionality.

So, recovery processes like detoxification and the onset of withdrawal symptoms will likely be considerably more stressful for autistics.

What is the Link Between Autism and Addiction?

The reason why neurodivergence is so commonly linked to addiction is because the daily struggle to get through life in a neurotypical world is exhausting, depressing, and unchanged.

Ridicule, discrimination, and stigmatic bias keep neurodivergent people working twice as hard to get through the day. The struggle is daily.

Whether they practice what they are about to say mentally (so they don’t misspeak and be mocked) or restrain themselves from public stimming (to avoid drawing unwanted attention to themselves), it is exhausting being neurodivergent in a society that caters to neurotypicals.

autistic adults

These self-deprecating habits and disguises are sadly used as survival tools.

For example, if an autistic person were to stim during a job interview openly, their chances of getting hired are often lower due to common employer discrimination.

The constant fear of rejection or ridicule, feelings of imposed inadequacy, and self-shaming tendencies commonly drive autistics to seek relief in drugs or alcohol.

What Treatment is There for Autistic Adults?

Treatment options are available and can be specialized to fit anyone’s needs. Typically, body detoxification and the onset of withdrawal symptoms are prioritized first when entering addiction rehab for autistic adults.

By participating in treatment, autistic adults will have a medical team of specialists to help in any way needed. In addition, rehab centers and detox facilities are highly trained to work with a vast array of individuals.

What Can Addiction Rehab Do to Help?

Firstly, therapy and recovery treatment work in a step-by-step process to gradually reintroduce healthy and natural behaviors, habits, and diets. Throughout this process, patients will have the opportunity to engage in multiple therapies to heal the body, mind, and spirit.

Upon program completion, medical professionals can validate graduation documents that can open employment opportunities through local resources. Employment outreach programs can work with autistic adults to find employment after recovery. In short, completing addiction rehabilitation programs is a treatment option with one of the highest chances of successful addiction recovery.

Although, if an autistic person has a primary care provider or a regular therapist, they should speak with them first before considering addiction rehab.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

If someone chooses to enter addiction rehab for autistic adults, Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a pivotal move in their chances of overcoming addiction. CBT focuses on self-awareness and recognizing negative thought and behavioral patterns, e.g., negative self-talk, unhealthy coping skills, etc. This way, autistic adults can have a safe and compassionate environment to learn about themselves and heal.

Regardless of a person’s origin of substance use, a therapist can help people struggling with addiction to find their truth.

Finding Help if You Are An Autistic Adult and Need Addiction Rehab

If you or someone you know is autistic and looking for the addiction rehab treatment, consider contacting an addiction specialist for information and available resources. Over the phone, you can ask questions, find local rehab centers, and discuss programs for special needs patients.

Remember, if the autistic adult has a primary care provider or is already speaking with a therapist, they are encouraged to talk with them before looking into addiction rehab services. Conjunctionally, any medical team member, currently seen for treatment will have considerably greater insight into the patient’s medical history.

Insurance Coverage for Addiction Rehab

In short, parity requires insurers to provide the same level of benefits for mental illness, serious mental illness or substance abuse as for other physical disorders and diseases.” – National Conference of State Legislatures.

By reaching out to insurance companies, autistic adults can choose in-network treatment options that fit their needs. Furthermore, an addiction rehab specialist can see what treatment options the patient’s insurance covers or explore payment options for uninsured patients.

There is Always Hope

Despite the stigmas surrounding autism and addiction, everyone progresses at their own pace. Unfortunately, in an ever-changing world, many people struggle to adapt.

Books on Autism and Addiction


[1] Mental Health Benefits: State Laws Mandating or Regulating (
[2] Why Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak For Me (
[3] What is neurodiversity? – Harvard Health
[4]Why Trauma Can Lead to Addiction | Psychology Today

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