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Addiction and the Brain: How Neurodiversity Plays a Role

A man’s hands pouring out too many pills because of an addiction.
Neurodiversity means your loved one is two times more likely to form substance dependency than their peers.

The brain is an amazing part of the body. It controls your movements, your emotions, the functions of each of your systems, and all your decisions. But every brain is unique — it’s part of what makes you “you.” Of course, some brains are even more unique. This neurodiversity is extraordinary, but it can also come with some complications, especially when it comes to addiction. If your neurodiverse loved one is struggling with addiction, there are a few things you should know.

What Is Neurodiversity?

The concept of neurodiversity isn’t something new, although the term may not be familiar to many people. “Neurodiversity” just means that differences in the brain — like ADHD and autism — are just variations. So rather than being labeled as “abnormal,” brains should just be considered different than others.

This idea is rooted in science — from studying the brain imaging of children with learning and thinking differences and comparing it to their peers. These differences seem to show that the brain simply functions differently when it comes to thinking and learning. These findings could explain the difficulty those with neurodiversity have in thinking, learning, and decision-making in adolescence and adulthood.

Neurodiversity and Addiction

When someone reaches adolescence, they’re at the highest risk for developing a substance dependency. Unfortunately, those who are neurodiverse also tend to have hyper-reactive nervous systems, and sensory overload (like from anxiety or stress) can overwhelm them. Substances like drugs and alcohol that are widely available can offer a way to ease the overload and find relief.

One study in Sweden found those with neurodivergence (specifically autism with average or above-average intelligence) are two times more likely to form substance dependency than their peers. They also found that those with an IQ of 100 or higher had an elevated risk of addiction — even more so for individuals with a dual diagnosis of ADHD and autism.

How You Can Help

When your neurodiverse loved one is struggling with substance abuse, it can be a difficult road to finding help. Here are a few steps you can take:

  • Avoid shaming. Rather than treating addiction, shaming and punishing those with a substance disorder only contribute further to the addiction.
  • Offer compassion. Not only will giving compassion help to give your loved one comfort, but it can also help you improve your own view of the addiction.
  • Seek treatment for your loved one through a program that offers dual diagnosis. While many treatment programs are helpful for those with substance abuse disorders, they may not be equipped to help those who are also neurodiverse. Neurodiversity and addiction, when paired together, often require specialized programming.

Discover Compassionate Dual Diagnosis at The Raleigh House

Your loved one means the world to you, which means you want the best recovery treatment program that will understand their differences. The Raleigh House offers a dual diagnosis treatment center in Denver so you know your loved one will always be treated with respect and consideration. They’ll never have to go through recovery alone.

We understand that stress and anxiety can increase your loved one’s need for dependency, which is why it’s one of the focuses of our treatment center. Our co-occurring anxiety treatment program helps them work through their addiction and develop healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety without turning to their substance of choice.

Our dual diagnosis treatment center and gold standard continuum of care can help your loved one reach lasting recovery. There is hope at The Raleigh House, and we want to help your loved one find it. Contact our team today to help your loved one get on the path to recovery.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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