National Adoption Month | The Link Between Addiction and Adoption

When parents open their home to an adopted child, they do their best to create a welcoming environment perfect for growth and development. They probably do not expect for their child to eventually fall into a cycle of substance abuse. Unfortunately, research does show that adopted children have an increased risk of chemical dependency due to a variety of factors. Today, we’ll discuss the hidden link between addiction and adoption.


Why Are Adopted Children More Likely to Become Addicted?

This question has been posed by researchers countless times. To put it simply, we don’t know exactly why adoptees are more likely to use drugs and alcohol. There are a few prevailing theories which could explain this phenomenon.

Trauma – While not all adopted children will experience life-altering trauma, they are at a higher risk than the general population. Certain events, like neglect, domestic violence, poverty, serious injury and losing one’s parents are inherently traumatic. This can create unresolved issues which persist into adolescence and adulthood.

Coping – Some children of adoption may find themselves feeling helpless or at the mercy of others. Especially for those in the foster care system, they do not control where they live or who they live with. Eventually, using substances may become a way to quiet the chaos or exert control over their lives.

Genetics – It’s widely known that genetic predisposition to addiction exists. If substance abuse runs in the family, a child is likely to deal with this issue themselves, even if they were not raised in the home. This is especially common for this demographic because addiction is a significant contributor to adoption rates. Many children who are placed in foster care were removed from their homes due to parental substance use.


Adoption Trauma Explained

We know that adverse childhood experiences are one of the greatest predictors of addiction later in life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, being removed from the home, bouncing around foster care and joining a new family can itself be traumatic. Even the most caring, loving adoption begins with separation.

Events like abuse, post-traumatic stress from significant events and losing one’s family are all hallmarks of adoption trauma. Specific demographics may have more difficult experiences. Transracial adoptees, children with special needs and LGBTQ+ youth can experience more significant adoption trauma than their peers.

With these risks in mind, it is important that the parents of these children set a good example and monitor their child’s health and well-being.


Preventing Addiction

First, don’t assume that your child will begin using substances just because they are adopted; presuming that they are not “good” or treating them differently from your biological children is not recommended. Be aware of the signs of mental health issues like anxiety and depression, but resist the urge to hover. Develop an open style of communication so that your child feels safe addressing any potential issues that arise.

Next, respect their unique identity and preferences. Forcing your child to be a “Douglas” when they know that they aren’t biologically one can be harmful and overwhelming. Instead, strive to welcome them into your family while allowing them to be an individual.

Additionally, try to stay engaged in their lives. This can be more challenging with older children of adoption, but knowing who their friends are and what their schedule is can mitigate the risk of substance use. The more involved you are, the greater your awareness about your child’s whereabouts, interests and behavioral changes. These can provide early warning signs if something needs to be addressed.

Finally, set a good example. Parents should avoid drinking in excess, misusing prescription medications or creating other problematic norms around the house. For parents in recovery, consider being open with your children about your past and educating them about drugs and alcohol. The more information your child has, the less likely they will be to turn to addiction after adoption.


Addiction Help for Children of Adoption

At Cumberland Heights, we provide comprehensive addiction treatment for people of all ages. Our youth program, ARCH Academy, enables teens and adolescents to pursue recovery from substance abuse. Our standard residential and outpatient programs seek to address unhealed trauma, addiction and mental health concerns for adult patients.

For more information about our treatment for children of adoption, please contact the Cumberland Heights admissions team.