Drug Addicted and Autistic: A More Common Combination Than You Think

Photo by Kaushik Narasimhan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Addicted and autistic? At Spectrum, Maia Szalavitz explores the unexpected biological and psychological commonalities of addiction and autism, and some new science that suggests that combination may be more common than you think.

Shane Stoner’s addiction began in 2008. He lost a factory job, his parents divorced, his father died — and then a relative introduced him to heroin. “I felt like heroin gave me confidence,” Stoner says. “I could get out of bed in the morning and do the day. No matter what happened, it made me feel like it was going to be all right.” It erased his constant anxiety.

Stoner, now 44, eventually entered detox in 2013 after he was arrested for stealing copper from an abandoned house. It was obvious at that point that he was addicted to heroin. But it would take several more years for him to get the diagnosis that truly helped him understand himself: autism.

The new label came as a relief. It explained Stoner’s sensitivity to things such as tags on his T-shirts, and his succession of obsessive interests. It clarified why he had such a difficult time fitting in as a child, his problems with roommates in college — and why he continued to struggle with social connections as an adult. “I can’t believe nobody ever mentioned it before, because I started thinking back and there’s pictures of me, like, 3 years old, and I’m honestly flapping my hands.”

Read the story