Adoption and Addiction

Any parent can attest that bringing a child into the world and raising that child is one of the biggest roles a human being can play; the parent. Whether one becomes a parent by natural birth, marriage or through adoption it is the nature of people to judge a child’s outcome as a reflection of their parenting – or is it? How much does “nature” supersede “nurture” in the life of an adopted child? On the same vein how likely is an adopted child to become an addict?

According to large-scale research, scientific conclusions about adoptees’ addiction rates are inconsistent. Some studies have found that adoptees’ rate of alcohol abuse is pretty much on par with adults in the general population; other research contradicts that. One 2012 study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry, based on more than 18,000 Swedish adoptees, determined that about 4.5 percent of adopted people abused drugs, compared with just 2.9 percent for all people born in Sweden during that period. The researchers also found that adoptees were at higher risk of drug problems if their biological parents or siblings had similar histories. Adoptees whose biological parents were alcoholics, had mental illness, or had criminal records were also found to be at greater risk of alcohol and drug abuse.

Sharon Burns-Carter, a certified addiction counselor and co-founder of the Wellness Resource Center in Boca Raton, Fla., says, “It’s not a particularly shocking notion that addiction—whether fueled by genetic predisposition, mental illness, escapist urges to flee the crush of one’s mind, or a combination of all three—might be pretty common among adopted folks. While in the recovery groups I have facilitated there were times when half of my clients were adoptees.”

New research is showing that closed adoptions can also be more problematic for a child’s identity and sense of belonging or lack thereof. Author of the adoption book, Primal Wound, Nancy Verrier writes, “Adoptees trauma occurred right after birth, so there is no ‘before trauma’ self. They suffered a loss that they can’t consciously remember and which no one else is acknowledging, but which has a tremendous impact on their sense of self, emotional response, and worldview.”  Verrier also notes, “Even in adulthood, adoptees may unconsciously perceive the world as “unsafe and unfamiliar,” remaining in a near-perpetual state of heightened anxiety and “constant vigilance.”