Ep. 161: The Intersection of Neurodivergence and Substance Use with Eric Rydzewski and Chris Wilson

Nov 28, 2023 | 0 comments

Research shows that individuals with learning and thinking differences are at higher risk for substance abuse. It is also known that there is a connection between mental health problems, like depression and anxiety, and substance abuse. But now that we know that, what do we do about it?

Today’s guests support neurodiverse youth and help with substance use and abuse concerns. Eric Rydzewski and Chris Wilson join me today from Aspen Growth Coaching to help guide us through some of the misinformation on this topic and the many things that people generally don’t understand about the connection between neurodivergence and substance abuse. 

In the end, we can’t always stop a teenager from being impulsive, but we can understand why they are more vulnerable to substance abuse and learn what to do to help them.


Show Notes:

[2:36] – Teenagers with ADHD are at greater risk for substance use and abuse.

[4:37] – Receiving a later diagnosis of something that impacts someone’s daily functioning can lead to seeking comfort in drugs and alcohol.

[6:21] – Some people don’t need an official diagnosis to know that they are drawn to substances that make them feel calm or stimulated.

[7:59] – Drugs and alcohol seem like a “quick fix” to a struggle or challenge.

[9:32] – There is also a lot of societal pressure especially for teens who already feel isolated.

[10:44] – It is common for drugs and alcohol to be used as performance enhancement in social connections.

[14:20] – Eric and Chris work with a lot of people who function well while using substances, but the dependence grows.

[16:48] – Teenagers are naturally impulsive and experimental. Some who are neurodiverse may be more impulsive.

[18:51] – The risk of substance abuse is also connected to nutrition and sleep. Part of the work Eric and Chris do is addressing taking care of their bodies.

[21:25] – Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety increase risks of substance abuse. These mental health conditions are also seen in those who are neurodiverse.

[24:00] – Parents get lost in these situations, but it is important to have healthy boundaries.

[25:23] – There are thousands of families in the United States dealing with this. There are a lot of support groups.

[27:11] – A critical part of building resilience is knowing there is a caring adult in their corner who can have difficult but supportive conversations with them.

[28:40] – What does it look like when an intervention works? Everyone is very different.

[32:26] – Recognize if your child is on a self-destructive path and seek the support they need to learn to be healthy and independent.


About Our Guests:

Eric Rydzewski

Eric is a Licensed Professional Counselor who specializes in working with adolescents and young adults with comorbid neurodivergent stress and addiction issues  He is trained in autism identification and screening and uses an emotionally focused approach to the families he works with as a way of enhancing connection rather than dividing through intervention. He has over 12 years of experience working with neurodivergent populations. Eric lives in Grand Junction, Colorado with his wife and family.


Chris Wilson

Chris is a Sobriety, ADHD, and Life Coach. He has a bachelor’s in English Literature and a long professional history as a corporate executive in the maritime shipping industry. After a decade in this high-powered career, Chris walked away from his business success to hike the Pacific Crest Trail and prioritize sobriety and living a more intentional life. After this dramatic life change, Chris has dedicated himself to supporting others with similar experiences. Using the skills he brought with him from his business background, Chris supports his clients to set themselves up for success. Moving away from shame and a failure-focused mindset, Chris teaches a “back to the basics” approach, helping clients establish lifestyle changes that encourage a healthy life while practicing resiliency in the face of relapse, attention challenges, and identity struggles.


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The Diverse Thinking Different Learning podcast is intended for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or legal advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Additionally, the views and opinions expressed by the host and guests are not considered treatment and do not necessarily reflect those of ChildNEXUS, Inc or the host, Dr. Karen Wilson.