Substance use in adolescents and young adults with autism



Poulin MH, Laventure M, Tremblay K, Beuchot A. (2020). Substance use in adolescents and young adults with autism. Revue Drogues Santé et Société. 18(2): 120-142.


As the legalization of cannabis is recent in Canada, autism stakeholders are concerned about the substance use of autistic adults who are at higher risk of developing addiction. Self-medication of anxiety and social inclusion difficulties can encourage cannabis use. The purpose of this study is to describe s ubstance use habits (tobacco, alcohol, cannabis, other drugs) and their consequences for persons diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) aged 16 to 30. An online questionnaire was completed by 65 adolescents and adults (mean age = 21.4 years) with ASD (32 men and 33 women). Substance use was measured using the adapted version 3.3 of the DEP-ADO questionnaire (Germain et al., 2016). Significantly, 24 persons with ASD (12 men and 12 women) report having consumed nothing (alcohol, tobacco and drugs) in the past 12 months. Persons with ASD who use cannabis report more frequent (daily) use and other drugs. However, the severity of their use is similar to that of their non-autistic peers. In addition, the prevalence of problematic use is very low in the autistic population (7.7%). The main consequences reported concern loss of money, health problems and risky behavior. Girls with ASD say they experience more consequences for risky behaviors related to their psychoactive substance use (PAS). Clinical recommendations for services to autistic people as avenues for future research are discussed.