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Aspergers & Alcohol

broken glass and ornaments
Illustration © Eleanor Davis

AiR member heartbrokenmom has written is about her son with Asperger’s who struggles with severe alcohol dependence. She is exhausted from the roller coaster of his use, the sometimes extreme consequences of his use, and her worry and concern.

“Dear Dominique, I’m new to this site and we are in crisis. We’ve been dealing with my 27-year-old son who is an alcoholic. He has been struggling for 3 years at least. He has been hospitalized several times for different things such as A Fib, Acute Pancreatitis, his arms and legs going numb, car accident. He was rushed by ambulance from work because he was drunk and they were concerned for him. He has lost about 3 jobs due to his drinking and has 2 DUI’s and license loss for 2 years. His friends are dropping him and he is now living with me after his room mates who were friends decided they wanted to move and his dad took him in and that lasted 1 1/2 years before his dad had enough of his drinking.

I’ve been the one who has picked him up over the last 2 1/2 years and brought him to the hospital and I’m so emotionally and physically drained. I’m dealing with anxiety and depression that I’m at my wits end with him. His dad and I placed him in a 30 day program in Long Island that cost us 6,000.00 to avoid jail time, which didn’t help. We did a section 35 and that didn’t work. I tried doing a section 35 again on New Years Eve, but because my son violated probation, they sent him to jail 30 days and still he’s drinking. I’ve taken him to AA meetings, but he says they depress him and make him want to drink. I had him in a dual outpatient program, but he missed yesterday and today due to drinking so he will not be allowed back. My son also has Aspergers, which makes this more complicated. I was going to do a section 35 again, but I’m afraid they’ll put him in jail again. I’m at a loss right now and could really use some help. If I throw him out, he has no where to go and I don’t think he’ll choose rehab. Any suggestions would be helpful!”

Hello heartbrokenmom.  For anyone thinking their child is too young to be seriously addicted, this comment is a wakeup call.  Your description of your son’s troubles, and your efforts to get him critically needed help, bring to mind someone who might be twice his age.

Asperger’s complicates things, as does depression or anxiety. Substance problems AND mental illness can leave you wondering which came first. At this point however, the “which came first” doesn’t matter: both are present and it is for the treatment professionals to figure out.

Some are willing to get help with the mental health issue rather than the addiction

For the family, the presence of mental illness can be used as a hook to treatment. While your Loved One may not consider addressing their alcoholism, they may want help with anxiety or Asperger’s.  Help with anxiety or Asperger’s may be the easier sale.

We are not experts on Asperger’s, but this passage points to your son’s vulnerability when it comes to alcohol.

“Despite wanting to have friends and engage with others, the awkward attempts and social deficits of individuals with Aspergers often make them the outsider in their peer groups. “Aspies” are often bullied or made the butt of mean-spirited jokes. Older children, teens and adults may simply be ostracized. Their repeated, but often rebuked attempts at friendships, and their painful awareness of their differences from their peers, often lead individuals with Aspergers to develop anxiety and/or depression, which may lead to alcoholism and/or drug abuse as a way to cope.”

– from My Aspergers Child

Connection will play a key role in your son’s recovery

A large part of recovery from alcoholism has to do with connection. Learning to connect with others without alcohol on board is tremendously healing. It’s why programs like AA work. The support of a sober network is protective. It’s not just those with Asperger’s that may have difficulty connecting, but Asperger’s can certainly make connection that much more difficult.

You have succeeded many times in getting your son into substance abuse treatment, either voluntarily or mandated through section 35s.  It may feel like failure, but the time spent in treatment was time your son spent not drinking, giving the body a break, and maybe thinking about recovery…

Don’t give up on treatment.

I wonder if approaching the problem from the aspect of Asperger’s would make a difference. AANE is an association in Massachusetts that lists all kinds of supports, though I couldn’t see anything specific to the alcohol-Asperger’s correlation or to housing. Still, talking to them may yield new ideas. It’s worth contacting them:

Would your son meet the requirements for a getting a Department of Mental Health Case Manager? I’ve included the link below. This is likely to be a complicated process, but again, it is worth contacting them to see. DMH case management would be a significant support and open other doors, including residences paid for by the state.

Here’s the link to get you started.

He may need to move out for now

Your son’s father and you have done all you can in terms of providing your son a home in the past few years. Yet, your son still drinks. I see how complicated this is because your son is so at risk of hurting himself when he drinks. The urge to protect him must be quite strong.

Moving him out though, as he continues to drink, is still worth pursuing.  If he isn’t willing to go to rehab, then perhaps a halfway or ¾ house, researched now and presented to him after the next emergency.  Perhaps you put together a cheap living situation and offer to pay for it for a limited time.

He is 27 and you are exhausted, held back now by depression and anxiety. Consider us here, ready to help.  Look into the resources, if you haven’t already, and check back in. Your experience can help others on this site.




In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)