Practically everything can go right with a person’s upbringing, and addiction can still develop. Mental and behavioral health disorders are complex diseases that experts continue to study. Both genetics and environmental factors have a hand in who will be affected by alcohol and substance use disorders. Still, predicting who will struggle in adulthood is hard to foresee; this is especially true for the adopted.
In the United States, some 135,000 children are adopted, according to the Adoption Network. Another 428,000 kids are living in foster care, and many of them are waiting to be adopted. In 2016, the number of children waiting for a family was 117,794. The transition from foster care to adoption is often a protracted process; more than 60 percent of children wait 2-5 years.
It’s not difficult to imagine that waiting years for placement, sometimes in less-than-adequate living conditions, can be traumatic. Even those who are adopted at birth can face significant challenges as they age, despite being cared for by a loving family.
Many adopted children are born to parents with histories of addiction, thus increasing the risk that the child too may experience problems in the future. Children removed from families due to neglect or abuse face their own set of challenges as they age. They often lack the coping skills to deal with stress. Lingering trauma can precipitate the development of mental health conditions and self-harming behaviors later in life.
The Trauma of Adoption
The links between trauma and addiction cannot be overemphasized. People who experience trauma at any stage of life are at risk of problems. This is especially true when a traumatic event occurs earlier in life. Being relinquished from one’s family can take a toll on young people who often are ill-equipped to make sense of their situation.
We must remember that leaving behind family and friends, even when one’s home life is toxic, can give a boy or girl feelings of abandonment. Such sentiments are compounded by becoming a ward of the state or by being adopted by a strange family. Who could fault a child for feeling helpless?
Inconsistent and insecure attachment styles are prevalent among adopted children. Even though life was chaotic with birth parents, many children yearn to be reconnected. This fact can make it difficult for children to connect with their new families. Adopted children may struggle to form relationships with their peers due to insecure attachment styles. They may fear rejection and have concerns that their new family is temporary.
The above circumstances can result in several issues, including anxiety and depression, emotional dysregulation, and difficulty connecting with others. Unable to cope with emotions and feeling cut off from society can lead to developing unhealthy coping mechanisms or a desire to escape. If not physically, then mentally via the use of drugs and alcohol.
Assume that all children who have been adopted or fostered have experienced trauma.” — American Academy of Pediatrics [“Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope with Trauma.”]
Adoption and Addiction
Childhood trauma – adoption-related or otherwise – can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder. Substance use disorders are also highly comorbid with Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mood-related psychopathology, according to Depression & Anxiety. The process of adoption is traumatic alone. If you consider that the precursors of adoption are often physical and emotional abuse, it’s not hard to see why many adoptees develop substance use disorders.
Parental substance use was the documented reason for removal of almost 31 percent of all children placed in foster care in 2012, according to the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Moreover, the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect shows that that percentage surpassed 60 percent in several states.
A genetic predisposition to addiction, trauma, and other co-occurring issues together significantly increase the risk of addiction that adoptees face. Once an alcohol or substance use disorder develops, it exacerbates the other concerns. The mind-altering substances may alleviate one mental health disorder symptoms initially, but they will make matters worse down the road.
Adoptees living with addiction and co-occurring mental illness must seek professional help. Ideally, they will seek out a treatment program that specializes in adoption-related issues.
Specialists in Adoption-Related Treatment
Males are adopted at higher rates than females. As such, many adopted men are struggling with addiction, mental illness, and other adoption-related issues. At PACE Recovery Center, we offer a specialized track that caters to the unique circumstances for adoptees struggling with mental health conditions.
Led by Brett Furst, M.A., MFTI, our program addresses the underlying causes of mental health issues and addiction in adopted men. We can give you or your loved one the tools to heal from mental health issues or substance use disorder. Please contact us today to learn more about PACE Recovery Center’s adoption programming.