Services for people with drug and alcohol problems are often not designed or delivered to meet the needs of autistic adults. This project aims to better understand how we can improve these services to have a positive impact on the lives of autistic people.

Research shows that 45% of autistic adults would not seek help if they were experiencing problematic drinking. Reasons for this include concerns about challenging, unfamiliar environments and being judged and misunderstood by a therapist. Drug and alcohol service providers have reported that they have received no specific training or support focusing on autism and they thought that treatment outcomes of autistic clients were likely to be worse than non-autistic clients.

Similar trends have been found in relation to the use of cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD). Research has shown that autistic people are more likely to use CBD than non-autistic people, to use it more frequently, and are less likely to trust doctors or the news as sources of information about cannabis or CBD. They said that a fear of being judged and concerns about unfamiliar, chaotic environments would prevent them from seeking support if needed.

This project was awarded as part of the Autistica Social Care Grant Development Awards supported by CareTech. The purpose of these projects is to allow researchers to develop a better understanding of a topic and community needs in relation to it. They can then use this knowledge to form an application to the NIHR Research for Social Care Funding Call.

What are researchers doing?

The project will take a unique approach by bringing together a range of experts in collaboration. The team will include experts in autism, addictive behaviours, alcohol advocacy, and drug and alcohol services. Central to the project will be peer-researchers from the autistic community who will be involved in every step of the research process from the formulation of research questions, through to the conducting and dissemination of the research.

The project will have four elements to identify where service improvements could be made:

  • Presentation - The team will host a workshop to present what is currently know about addiction services to seek views from autistic service users and their supporters, charities, and service providers.
  • Consultation - The team will run stakeholder workshops with autistic adults and their families/carers who have lived experience of seeking, accessing, or receiving support from drug and/or alcohol services, to identify research priorities aimed at improving access to and provision of support.
  • Partnership development - The team will identify and meet with key professionals in drug and alcohol services to understand the current picture and identify research priorities.
  • Application development - The team will continue to work with stakeholders from the autistic community and addiction service provision to inform, shape and co-design a research proposal to be submitted to the NIHR Research for Social Care Funding Call.