Adoption Trauma | Addressing Abandonment & Attachment

adoption trauma

Adoption can be a positive life event. Most adopted children are well-adjusted and enjoy a stable family relationship. However, issues can arise in an individual who has been adopted. Abandonment and attachment issues can cause other problems, as a child grows and becomes an adult. Adoption trauma should be addressed constructively, along with addressing abandonment and attachment issues, to help the adoptee re-adjust and cope in a healthier manner.

Adoption Trauma

Trauma can occur because of an isolated incident or as a result of an ongoing circumstance that affects someone personally. Adoption trauma refers to the shock and pain of being permanently and abruptly separated from biological family members and can affect both the birth parent and the child who is being adopted, given the circumstances of the separation. The level of emotional and mental difficulty, as well as the long-term impact of adoption trauma, varies depending on the child’s age, maturity level, and other circumstances involved in the adoption.

Abandonment Issues

Research has found that a child who is placed for adoption may feel abandoned, even after being adopted. The child may experience symptoms of abandonment well into adulthood, including:

  • Aggression and angry behavior
  • Withdrawal
  • Sadness
  • Self-image problems
  • Daydreaming, as they try to make sense of their story and identity
  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Nightmares

This sense of abandonment can also lead to interpersonal and relationship problems. The person who has been adopted, even if now living in a loving and stable home, has lost their birth parents as well as a sense of being biologically linked to other family members. The individual’s sense of loss may not be acknowledged or may be downplayed. Addressing abandonment and attachment issues is critical to helping the adopted person regain a sense of comfort and security.

Attachment Issues

Feeling abandoned early in life can lead to attachment issues in adults who have been adopted. Those early social experiences, including loss and rejection, create individual differences in security, which shape relational attitudes and behaviors. Being adopted may be associated with a sense of having been rejected or abandoned by birth parents, and of ‘‘not belonging.’’ Adoption may be linked with perceptions that the individual is unworthy of love and attention or that other people are unavailable, uncaring, and rejecting.

Reactive Detachment Disorder

A rare condition that can be part of a child’s adoption trauma, reactive attachment disorder (RAD) occurs when infants and young children who are subject to extreme neglect or abuse fail to establish an expected bond. A child with RAD, which is diagnosed from 9 months to 5 years of age, rarely seeks or responds to comfort when distressed, shows limited positive affect, and has unexplained episodes of irritability, sadness, or fearfulness in contact with caregivers.

Signs of RAD in infants and toddlers include a withdrawn appearance, a failure to smile, and a failure to react when parents or caregivers attempt to interact with them. Instead of seeking nurturing from a parent or caregiver, these children will attempt to nurture and soothe themselves. When distressed, they may calm down more quickly without the attention of an adult.

Substance Use Disorders

Adoption has been associated with increased cognitive development and cognitive competence; however, it has also been found to increase the individual’s risk for substance use disorders. A recent study found that the prevalence of any lifetime substance use disorder was 43% higher among adoptees (50.5%) compared to non-adoptees (35.4%). Lifetime prevalence rates of disorders involving legal substances were 41.0% (alcohol) and 25.4% (nicotine) among adoptees. In non-adoptees, the rates dropped to 27.5% (alcohol) and 16.1% (nicotine). Lifetime prevalence rates of disorders involving illegal substances ranged from 2.9% (opioid) to 13.2% (cannabis) among adoptees and from 1.3% (opioid) to 7.6% (cannabis) among non-adoptees.

Awareness of adopted persons and their adoptive parents to this risk may help in preventing the individual from using substances and in being alert to early signs and symptoms, providing the opportunity for a timely intervention to reduce the damage and increase the chance of recovery. These findings can also be useful for addressing adoption trauma, including abandonment and attachment issues, by providing education, prevention, and support for adoptees and their families.

Specialists in Adoption Trauma Treatment

The professionals at PACE Recovery Center understand the struggles you may encounter as an adoptee, particularly in regard to adoption trauma and abandonment and attachment issues. Please contact PACE Recovery Center if you have been adopted or are an adoptive parent and struggle with alcohol, drugs, and mental illness. Our gender-specific, evidence-based addiction recovery center for men will help you begin the healing process and begin a remarkable journey. During these challenging times, our highly skilled team is adhering to COVID-19 guidelines to ensure you remain safe and healthy. You can reach us today at 800-526-1851.

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