Adoption Trauma and Addiction

adoption trauma and addiction

While adoption can give a child a permanent home and a sense of belonging, the trauma that led to the need to be adopted can lead to bigger problems if not properly addressed. There is a link between adoption trauma and addiction that needs to be closely examined, particularly during Adoption Awareness Month.

Every Conversation Matters

November is Adoption Awareness Month and this year’s theme is “Conversations Matter.” A simple conversation can help reveal the level of a child’s mental health and welfare. Conversations about adoption can also encourage youth to engage more freely about their own situations, what their goals are, and how they feel about being adopted.

Designated as a time to increase national awareness of adoption issues, including adoption trauma and addiction, Adoption Awareness Month brings attention to the need for more adoptive families in the US. Teens, in particular, are in great need of the support, love, and sense of belonging that an adoptive family can provide, all of which are critical to determining their achievement capabilities as well as their overall health and well-being.

Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS) data reveals that, as of 2019:

  • Over 122,000 children and youth are waiting to be adopted who are at risk of aging out of foster care without permanent family connections.
  • Approximately one in five children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted is a teen.
  • Teens, ages 15-18, wait significantly longer for permanency when compared to their peers.
  • Only 5% of all children adopted in 2019 were 15-18 years old.
  • The average time for a child to remain in foster care is 31 months.

Adoption Trauma

Children in foster care, who are waiting to be adopted, have all been exposed to some form of trauma. The very act of being put into foster care is traumatic, since it means the child has lost their birth family and has probably also lost their social support such as friends and teachers. They have essentially lost everything that is familiar and comforting to them.

Many of those in foster care have experienced multiple or repeated trauma, which can affect their behavior, their ways of thinking, their brains, and their physical health. The trauma can disrupt a child’s sense of safety and security, can alter the way they see individuals and situations in their own lives, and can impact how they respond. About a fourth of the children in foster care show signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Trauma and Unhealthy Behaviors

Anyone who experiences trauma is at risk of developing unhealthy habits and behaviors and that also applies to children who are in foster care or who have been adopted. These behaviors can include increased aggression, distrusting or disobeying adults in their lives, as well as using and misusing drugs and alcohol. Unresolved trauma can lead to addiction and thoughts of suicide in people of all ages.

Adoption is usually seen as a positive event, particularly when children are placed in loving homes with a family that truly wants them and offers them a permanent situation. However, it is important to remember that adoption to a new home and a new family occurs after the relationship with the old home and biological family has ended. In some instances, that relationship never really began at all. Adoption is a positive but is always the result of a loss.

The Impact of Trauma

Trauma that results from separation early in life can manifest later in life. The impact can include issues with personal relationships as well as attempts at self-regulation through addictions to drugs and alcohol. The impact of trauma can be both psychological and physical.

The individual’s heightened levels of adrenaline and cortisol raise anxiety levels, and that can lead to difficulties with concentration. In addition, lower levels of serotonin lead to depression, which can make the feelings of shame more difficult to manage.

The Adoption Trauma and Addiction Cycle

The connection between trauma and substance abuse is two-way. Trauma can increase the risk of an individual developing an addiction, and substance abuse can increase the likelihood that the individual will be re-traumatized as a result of engaging in high-risk behavior caused by the addiction. People who abuse drugs or alcohol are generally less able to cope with a traumatic event.

In adoption, the early trauma of abandonment or abuse can impact the child’s ability to cope with stress, the results of which may show in their mental and physical health even as they are adopted and grow up in a stable home. The stress can become unbearable for them, as it is often frightening and overwhelming, and that can lead to addiction.

Addiction Treatment in Hemet, California

Drug addiction can have serious negative effects on your mental and physical health. The professionals at Hemet Valley Recovery Center offer you the highest degree of medical, psychological, and spiritual expertise to guide you through mental health and addiction treatment and recovery so you can discover your true potential in life.

It is difficult to be in recovery every day, and it can be even more challenging during the pandemic. Should you find yourself struggling at any point, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Contact us at HRVC for more information on our addiction treatment and recovery support programs.