Can Drugs Cause Autism In Babies?

Is There a Link Between Autism and Drug Addiction?

Could there be a connection between autism and drug addiction?  Before exploring this question and gathering relevant information about autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is helpful to know about this condition and how common it is.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one out of every 160 children has ASD. Several epidemiological studies have revealed that reported cases of ASD have been increasing (WHO, April 2017).

Autism Definition

ASD is a condition that has a number of symptoms. These symptoms could make it appear as if there are different types of autism. People with autism may have impairments in communication, language, or behavior. They also have more narrow or limited interests. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said that these symptoms, which can be seen during early childhood, could affect a child’s daily functioning (, October 2010).

Autism and Drug Addiction

Do children of addicted parents have a higher risk of developing autism? Studies have examined how parents can affect their future offspring. Addiction does not provide positive results for pregnant mothers or their children, according to a study published in Nature Reviews Neuroscience (Thompson, Barbara L.; Levitt, Pat; and Stanwood, Gregg D., April 2009).

Research found that addiction to cocaine, a psychostimulant, could affect the development of the fetus inside the mother’s womb. The fetus is exposed to cocaine even before he or she is born. Cocaine abuse slowed the development of the fetus, especially the brain. Babies exposed to cocaine while still in the womb are more likely to need special programs in the future.

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Possible Autism Causes

You may have heard claims that vaccines cause ASD in children. There is no evidence to support these claims, says the World Health Organization. Current epidemiological data has arrived at one conclusion: there is no correlation between the administration of vaccines and the diagnosis of ASD. No evidence has ever proven that the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine can cause ASD. In the past, this vaccine has been cited as a cause of the condition, although there is no connection.

There are other possible causes of autism, including:

  • Genetics. Parental genes may contribute to a child’s ASD. If the condition runs in a family, there is a greater risk a child may be autistic.
  • Exposure to chemicals and drugs.  If a mother has been exposed to certain chemicals and illegal drugs during pregnancy, a child has higher chances of having ASD.
  • The age of the mother or father. If a mother or father’s age is already advanced, there is a chance that a baby will have autism. Children of older parents have a higher risk of developing different conditions.

Biological factors can also contribute to autism, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (HealthDirect, September 2018):

  • Faulty connections inside the brain
  • Improper growth of parts of the brain
  • Weak immune systems and the body’s failure to protect itself
  • Poorly functioning metabolisms

Autism symptoms

How can people determine if a child has ASD? What are the symptoms?

Detection can be tricky, especially since no two children display the same symptoms of this condition. The following are some common symptoms of ASD, as noted by the Australian government’s Health Direct page:

  • Impaired nonverbal communication. Children may have difficulty moving their heads or shaking hands.
  • Underdeveloped social skills.
  • Limited emotional or social responses. Autistic children might not smile or point to things.
  • Difficulties with social engagements or maintaining interactions with other children. Autistic children frequently isolate themselves from others.
  • Delayed speech development, either in speaking or understanding the speech of others.
  • Problems with maintaining eye contact during conversations.
  • Inability to cope with change. Autistic children may find it comfortable to do the same things over and over again.
  • Strong reactions to pain, sound, and other sensory inputs or activities.
  • Aggressiveness toward themselves and others.
  • Strong fixations on things.

Autism Categories

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is categorized into different levels to help health professionals determine the severity of a child’s condition. Knowing a client’s specific condition can help health care professionals provide appropriate interventions. In the past, professionals used several types of ASD to classify the condition of a specific child’s condition. These designations changed starting in 2013. Professionals currently rank ASD by different levels of severity, with 1 as the mildest and 3 as the most severe.

According to these ASD designations, people with level 1 ASD need some support, while people with level 2 require more substantial support. Level 3 clients need very substantial support (Indiana University Bloomington, 2013).

  • Level 1: The client has difficulty reciprocating social interactions. He or she finds it hard to communicate.
  • Level 2: The client displays a noted deficiency in understanding gestures and how they are used.
  • Level 3: The client finds it difficult to understand relationships and has difficulty developing and maintaining relationships.

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Dual Diagnosis: ASD and Drug Addiction

There have been discussions on whether people with ASD abuse drugs due to their problems with social interactions and their feelings of anxiety. Drug addiction is a complex disease, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Quitting drugs is not easy. Sobriety can require a great deal of effort. Constant access to drugs is another reason why some people may have difficulty addressing their addiction (NIDA, June 2018).

Some people argue that it is more difficult for people with ASD to abuse substances. According to this perspective, people with ASD lack the social skills needed to source drugs from the streets. On the other hand, some may argue that the delay in mental development may make substance use disorder more likely. In this view, it may be easier to encourage people with ASD to try drugs.

A study published in the Western Michigan University’s Scholarly Works page shared that there has been no evidence of a link between drug abuse and ASD (Western Michigan University, 2009).

There has been no research to prove whether ASD influences people to turn to drug use. Studies have found that people with milder forms of ASD (particularly Asperger’s syndrome) may be more likely to turn to alcohol to cope with their condition. The anxiety they feel due to forced social interactions may influence their use of alcohol. Clearly, autism and substance use disorder are complex conditions that warrant further study.

Medical disclaimer:

Sunshine Behavioral Health strives to help people who are facing substance abuse, addiction, mental health disorders, or a combination of these conditions. It does this by providing compassionate care and evidence-based content that addresses health, treatment, and recovery.

Licensed medical professionals review material we publish on our site. The material is not a substitute for qualified medical diagnoses, treatment, or advice. It should not be used to replace the suggestions of your personal physician or other health care professionals.

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