Do patients with autism have a higher risk of substance use disorder than the general population, and is this risk associated with psychotropic treatment, comorbidities, or mortality?
In this cohort study of 6599 individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and 26 396 controls without ASD, a diagnosis of autism was associated with an increased risk of substance use disorder, and the risk was much higher in those who had behavioral comorbidities and those who did not receive psychotropic agents. The mortality risk was higher in patients with autism and co-occurring substance use disorder than in non-ASD controls with or without substance use disorder.
These findings suggest that patients with ASD are vulnerable to the development of substance use disorder, and the use of psychotropic agents for autism is associated with a decreased risk of substance use disorder.
The risk of substance use disorder (SUD) in patients with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) remains unclear.
To investigate the risk of SUD in patients with ASD and its associations with comorbidities, psychotropic agents (PAs), and mortality.
Design, Setting, and Participants
This retrospective, population-based, cohort study of 1 936 512 participants used data from the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database and was conducted from January 1, 2000, to December 31, 2015. Included participants attended at least 3 outpatient visits within the 1-year study period for symptomatic ASD as determined by the International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification (ICD-9-CM) diagnostic codes. Individuals diagnosed with ASD before 2000, those diagnosed with SUD before the first visit for ASD, and those with missing data were excluded from the analysis. Patients with ASD and non-ASD controls were matched 1:4 by age, sex, and index date.
Symptomatic ASD evaluated for at least 3 outpatient visits within the 1-year study period.
Main Outcomes and Measures
Adjusted hazard ratios (aHRs) with 95% CIs for SUD, including alcohol use disorder (AUD) and drug use disorder (DUD), and the risk of mortality were calculated. Data were analyzed from March 1 to July 13, 2020.
A total of 6599 individuals with ASD (mean [SD] age, 11.9 [5.1] years; 5094 boys [77.2%]; mean [SD] follow-up period, 8.1 [8.3] years; median follow-up period, 4.3 [interquartile range [IQR], 2.3-5.3] years) and 26 396 controls (mean [SD] age, 12.1 [5.8] years; 20 376 boys [77.2%]; mean [SD] follow-up period, 8.6 [8.9] years; median follow-up period, 4.4 [IQR, 2.4-5.4] years) were enrolled in the study. According to multivariable-adjusted analysis, the aHRs for SUD (2.33; 95% CI, 1.89-2.87), AUD (2.07; 95% CI, 1.60-2.63), and DUD (3.00; 95% CI, 2.15-4.58) were significantly higher in the ASD group than in the non-ASD controls. The aHRs for SUD in the ASD subgroups with 1 PA (0.60; 95% CI, 0.43-0.66) and with multiple PAs (0.37; 95% CI, 0.28-0.49) were significantly lower than those in the ASD subgroup with no PAs. Comparisons between patients with ASD and non-ASD controls with the same comorbidities showed higher aHRs for SUD among patients with ASD (range, 1.17-2.55); moreover, the ASD subgroup not receiving any PAs had an aHR of 6.39 (95% CI, 5.11-7.87) for SUD when they had comorbid tic disorder and aHRs of 5.48 (95% CI, 5.12-5.70) for AUD and 5.42 (95% CI, 5.12-5.80) for DUD when they had comorbid impulse control disorder. The mortality risk was significantly higher in patients with ASD and concomitant SUD than in non-ASD controls without SUD (aHR, 3.17; 95% CI, 2.69-3.89).
Conclusions and Relevance
These findings suggest that patients with ASD are vulnerable to the development of SUD. Comorbid ASD and SUD were associated with an increase in mortality risk.
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Huang J, Yang F, Chien W, et al. Risk of Substance Use Disorder and Its Associations With Comorbidities and Psychotropic Agents in Patients With Autism. JAMA Pediatr. 2021;175(2):e205371. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2020.5371
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