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Can Adoption Trauma Cause Substance Abuse?

A man talking about his adoption trauma with a therapist.
Adoption trauma may be at the heart of your loved one’s substance abuse.

There’s no question that traumatic events have the ability to change the way victims see themselves and the world around them. Whether someone experiences trauma as a child or later in life as an adult, that trauma can leave a lasting impression that affects their thought patterns and behaviors. Unfortunately, adoption can be one of these traumatic events.

As beautiful and life-changing as adoption is, it can be difficult for people to transition seamlessly into a new family. On top of that, feelings of abandonment by birth parents can take root and evolve into emotional trauma. If your loved one is adopted and struggling with addiction, it’s important to understand what adoption trauma is and how it could be a potential cause or contributing factor of their substance abuse.

What is Adoption Trauma?

Adoption trauma is the stress felt by someone who was abandoned by their birth parents. Even if your loved one was adopted as a baby, recent studies suggest that adoption trauma can begin as early as infancy. Infants form a sense of familiarity with their biological mothers’ scent and notice when it’s gone, triggering stress.

This stress can cause depression, anxiety and abandonment issues throughout a person’s life. If your loved one is suffering from adoption trauma, they may feel that they aren’t valued or that their life isn’t worthwhile because their biological parents didn’t want them. Thoughts and feelings like these can lead to struggling with self-esteem, loss of identity and even destructive behaviors like alcohol or drug abuse.

Can Adoption Trauma Cause Substance Abuse?

The toll adoption trauma can take on an individual’s mental and emotional well-being can cause them to search for a means of escape. Unfortunately, people experiencing adoption trauma refuse to turn to therapy or other healthy coping strategies, feeling that they aren’t worth the effort or time. This leaves substance abuse, which can quickly and effectively ease the mental health symptoms they’re feeling from their personal trauma.

Substance abuse also offers a false sense of control for those with adoption trauma. Since being put up for adoption was not their choice, many people feel powerless over what happens in their own life. Drinking or getting high is a way for them to feel like they’re taking back control, even if they’re aware of the dangers posed by substance abuse.

How Do You Know if Adoption Trauma is Behind Your Loved One’s Addiction?

Adoption trauma is difficult to identify because it doesn’t appear the way physical abuse does. Instead, it’s a silent abuse, tearing at your loved one’s self-worth and confidence day-in and day-out. So, if your loved one doesn’t talk about it, how do you know it’s the cause of their substance abuse?

Seven core issues of adoption are loss, rejection, guilt or shame, grief, identity, intimacy and control. If your loved one fears rejection, has trouble connecting with family and friends, or has communicated feelings of guilt and powerlessness, their adoption trauma may be at the heart of their addiction.

It’s also important to consider what your loved one’s adoption was like and to understand their history. If they were adopted as a young child or adolescent, did they experience any physical or emotional abuse by their biological or foster parents? Physical violence, sexual abuse and emotional neglect can decrease the brain’s ability to manage stress and emotional responses and lead to substance abuse as a way to cope.

If you suspect your loved one is using alcohol or drugs to try to manage their adoption trauma, a credible addiction and mental health treatment center like The Raleigh House is the best place to seek help.

Find Trauma-Informed Addiction Treatment at The Raleigh House

At The Raleigh House, our very own founder, Eric Lapp, has a similar story as your loved one and thousands of others who struggle with adoption trauma and addiction. The personal experience and our over 10 years of expertise in the behavioral health and addiction field make us the ideal treatment center for your loved one to recover.

Through our personalized approach to treatment, we will help your loved one uncover their unique triggers, address and heal from their adoption trauma, and discover healthier ways to cope that returns them to a lifestyle free of alcohol or drugs. If you’re ready to get your loved one the care and support they need, contact our admissions team today.

Call Now: 720-891-4657

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