A study from 2012, appearing in the journal PLOS | ONE, demonstrates an increased risk of lifetime substance use disorders in adopted adults. A team of researchers from the University of Minnesota found that adoptees are at 1.87 times more significant risk of developing a SUD, compared to non-adoptees. The research indicates that this demographic is also more likely to contend with other psychiatric disorders as well.
While the above study is somewhat dated, the findings are as relevant today as when they were first published. Why adoptees are at greater risk often comes down to adoption trauma. According to PsychCentral, “adoption trauma is defined as the shock and pain of being permanently, abruptly separated from one’s family member.” The article notes that this form of trauma can be exacerbated by the “societal expectation that it [adoption trauma] shouldn’t exist at all. The article’s author cites a keen quote on this subject.
Adoption loss is the only trauma in the world where the victims are expected by the whole of society to be grateful.” –Reverend Keith C. Griffith
It isn’t difficult to grasp some of the struggles that adopted people face. Introspection can lead some individuals to believe that they are unwanted or unloved. The question of where a person came from – the genetic breadcrumb trail – can loom large. Not knowing one’s biological parents can cause distress as people age. If such people don’t have a method of coping with adoption trauma they are at a heightened risk of problems in the future.
Adoption Trauma, Mental Illness, and Addiction
Loss can lead to grief, to anger. Even those who never knew their biological parents can mourn their loss. Internal suffering early in life and into adulthood can position someone to cope with mental anguish in an unhealthy manner. What’s more, adoptees – whose birth parents (one or both) have a history of substance use issues – are significantly more likely to have their own struggles with drugs and alcohol. An unstable adoptive home is also a factor that can precipitate a person developing unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Research shows that 4.5% of adoptees had drug-abuse problems, compared to 2.9% of people in the general population, Health Magazine reports. Moreover, 8.6% with at least one biological parent who had substance issues, had their own drug problems. The findings – appearing in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2016 – come from data on 18,115 adoptees born in Sweden between 1950 and 1993.
The link between adoption and mental illness often stems from insecure attachment styles. Young people who go into foster care or are adopted, or both, face many uncertainties. They are forced to adapt to many situations. Not knowing what the future holds or where a person will end up, for instance, can wreak havoc on one’s psyche. Insecure attachment styles include:
- Anxious-preoccupied: a negative view of self and positive view of others.
- Dismissive-avoidant: a positive view of self and negative view of others.
- Fearful-avoidant: an unstable fluctuating/confused view of self and view of others.
Insecure, inconsistent attachment styles can result in mental health conditions developing, i.e., anxiety and depression. What’s more, such experiences can bring about unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance use. It is paramount that both mental health, and how a person copes, are addressed simultaneously for successful outcomes.
PACE Adoption-Related Treatment
Stigma accompanies both adoption and mental illness. The shame that many adoptees have about their past, the guilt that people have about their mental illness, can stand in the way of seeking help. While challenging, it is still possible to break through stigma and access treatment.
At PACE Recovery Center, we have helped many adopted people find long-term recovery. We offer a track that caters specifically to adopted men who are struggling with mental illness. Led by Brett Furst, M.A., MFTI, our adoption-related treatment utilizes several specialized approaches to help clients address the underlying causes of mental health issues and addiction. Aided by a safe and supportive environment, PACE assists adopted men in fostering healthy, secure attachment styles.
Please contact us today to learn more about our program and how we can help you manage adoption trauma, mental illness, and addiction.