Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment

Autism Spectrum Disorder and Co-occurring Substance Use Disorder – A Systematic Review

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Substance Abuse: Research and Treatment 2016:10 69-75


Published on 17 Aug 2016

DOI: 10.4137/SART.S39921

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Objective: Patients with co-occurring autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and substance use disorder (SUD) require special attention from clinical services. Screening for this co-occurrence is not generally an integral part of routine clinical assessments, and failure to identify and understand this group of patients may contribute to a worsening of their symptoms and/or an increase in drug abuse. Thus, there is a need to review the evidence base on patients with co-occurring ASD and SUD in order to enhance clinical practice and future research.

Methods: We reviewed all identified papers on patients with co-occurring ASD and SUD. The focus of the review was on epidemiology, patient characteristics, function of drug use, and the effect of current interventions.

Results: A total of 18 papers were included in the analysis. Eleven papers were based on epidemiological studies, although only one study reported the prevalence of ASD in an SUD population. Two papers explored the role of personality, three papers studied subgroups of individuals serving prison for violent or sexual crimes, and one paper explored the function of drugs in the ASD patient group. There were no studies testing specific treatment interventions.

Conclusions: In most of the treatment settings studied, there were relatively few patients with co-occurring ASD and SUD, but due to differences in study samples it was difficult to establish a general prevalence rate. The one consistent finding was the lack of focused treatment studies. There is clearly a need for research on interventions that take account of the special needs of this patient group.




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