Untreated Autism Linked to Heightened Risk of SUD

People on the autism spectrum could be more likely to develop substance use disorders (SUD), according to new research published in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study comes out of Taiwan, where researchers used health insurance data to investigate the risk of SUD among people with autism. To reach the findings, the study’s authors looked at data from more than 6,599 individuals with autism and 26,396 people not on the spectrum.

Overall, researchers found that an autism diagnosis was associated with an increased risk of SUD. Plus, that risk is much higher in those with untreated behavioral comorbidities, the data showed.


The findings suggest that psychotropic medications can help reduce the likelihood of a person with autism developing an SUD. They also highlight the need for autism services and supports into adulthood.

Autism is a lifelong disorder, but children are usually at the forefront of discussion. Meanwhile, adults with autism are rarely the focus of funding, treatment or services.

However, that could be slowly starting to change.


The $1.8 billion Autism CARES Act of 2019 expanded government autism programs and mandated research to include adults for the first time ever. Historically, federal autism funding and programs have focused on those 21 and younger.

On top of that, a growing number of autism services providers seem to be looking at adult programming as an area of growth. Firefly Autism and the Center for Autism & Related Disorders (CARD) are two such examples.

Both providers are currently seeking to expand their service offerings for adults with autism. It’s an opportunity we could see other providers latch onto in the future.