Sensory processing and alcohol use in adults with autism spectrum disorder

Frank van den Boogert, Bram Sizoo, Yvonne H A Bouman, Witte J G Hoogendijk, Sabine J Roza*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

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Abstract

The association between substance use and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is complex. Although sensory processing difficulties are highly prevalent in individuals with ASD, data on the association between sensory processing and substance use in ASD are limited. This study aimed to investigate the association between sensory processing patterns and alcohol use in adults with ASD. Kruskal-Wallis tests were performed on questionnaire data (Adolescent/Adult Sensory Profile and Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test - Consumption) of 101 adults with ASD. Sensory processing difficulties are associated with alcohol use in adults with ASD. Differences in sensory processing between alcohol-based subgroups vary per specific sensory processing pattern: drinkers reported 6.5 to 8 points higher levels of low registration [χ 2(2) = 12.408, p = .002, 99 % CI (.002.002)], non-hazardous drinkers reported 9 points higher levels of sensory sensitivity [χ 2(2) = 6.868, p = .031, 99 % CI (.031, .032)], and hazardous drinkers reported 7.5 points higher levels of sensory seeking [χ 2(2) = 6.698, p = .034, 99 % CI (.034, .035)], all in comparison with non-drinkers on scales ranging from 15 to 75. Our proof-of-concept study indicates that vulnerability in some individuals with ASD for substance use disorders might be explained by sensory processing difficulties. Whether alcohol is used as 'self-medication' or is associated with other neurobiological vulnerabilities needs further investigation in larger follow-up studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)25-30
Number of pages6
JournalAlcohol
Volume114
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024

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