Alcohol: An Autistic Masking Tool?

Jesse Meadows
9 min readApr 6, 2021

CW: discussion of suicide

A double exposure depicting the author drinking a cocktail, staring into the camera, while another version of her takes a picture of the scene to the left. The image showing through from underneath her is a woman holding a beer, talking to someone outside the frame.
Art by Jesse Meadows

Sometimes it feels inevitable with a brain like mine, stuck on a loop of worry and terrified of everything. Standing in line at the grocery store and hearing it all at once. But I have always been a great problem solver. When I realized I could give this sensitive brain a liquid buffer, that it was as easy as pouring it over ice and choking it back, I thought I’d found quite a practical solution.

You call it “substance abuse”, I call it my best educated guess.

And it started tasting better, the more I drank. Soon I wasn’t choking. The bitterness felt good, like a cut that stings but reminds you that you’re alive. Like endorphins on the tail end of pain. It was the only time I felt calm, a sort of relief. It still is.

I could tell you stories, but the truth is, I don’t remember much. I don’t think I was a very good person at the height of it all — alcohol tends to distort your morality. Bad ideas glisten in a drunken sheen. They shatter all around you, glitter and cut.

It took me fifteen years to try sobriety, and I only did it because I thought it would ease my depression. Because one night in bed I was wasted and crying, texting my friend about how much I wanted to die, and he texted back, you’re scaring me.

It is scary, especially considering that autistic people are 7 times more likely to commit suicide, and there are no autistic-specific suicide hotlines (and if there were, truly, it would be text-based. Phone calls are a nightmare).

There’s barely any support for autistic adults at all. Typing “autism therapy” into Google will get you endless pages of services aimed at teaching children how to perform neurotypical behaviors, a practice which directly contributes to trauma, self-harm, and suicidality in adulthood.

The depression got slightly better when I stopped consuming a depressant everyday (go figure), but the anxiety has been the same since I was an agoraphobic six-year-old. Without alcohol to hold my overactive nerves steady, The Fear took over.

There are lots of things I can’t or won’t do anymore, when I don’t drink. In many ways I think I was more “functional” back then. I know, heavy drinkers say things like that, but…

Jesse Meadows

writer + digital artist doing critical adhd studies + re-politicizing mental health | they/them