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Are Adoptees High Risk for Substance Abuse?

Are Adoptees High Risk for Substance Abuse?

It is a commonly held belief that adoptees are at a higher risk for all psychiatric illness, including substance abuse. However, some studies now suggest that there are other factors at play. For one, adoptees are more likely to be overrepresented in mental health treatment because parents tend to seek help more quickly and for more minor problems. Also, the risk of substance abuse may not result so much from the adoption, but from the substance abuse problems of the biological parents and the quality of the adoptive environment. So yes, adoptees are at high risk for substance abuse compared to the general population, but it is a complex issue.

Are Adoptees High Risk for Substance Abuse? Facts

  • Adoptees have been shown to be 5.2% more likely to abuse drugs, and 2.6% more likely to abuse alcohol than their adoptive siblings and the general population.
  • Transracial adoptees whose parents discuss and acknowledge their biological and ethnic differences are less likely to develop substance abuse disorders than transracial adoptees whose parents refuse to acknowledge the apparent differences between them.
  • Seven percent of a clinical sample of 600 patients receiving out-patient treatment for alcohol and drug abuse are adoptees.
  • The older a child is when they are adopted; the more likely they are to develop substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues.
  • A child who spends at least six months with their biological mother, who abuses drugs or alcohol, before being placed for adoption, is one and a half times more likely to develop a substance abuse disorder.

Are Adoptees High Risk for Substance Abuse? Nature vs. Nurture

A recent study among 18,000 Swedish adopted children suggests that genetics do indeed play a role in development of substance abuse. In cases where the biological parents abused drugs, adoptees are at a high risk of substance abuse. It suggests that adoptees whose biological parent’s abuse drugs were twice more likely to abuse drugs than children whose biological parents didn’t struggle with substance abuse. However, trouble or substance abuse in the adoptive family is also a risk factor, suggesting that both environment and biological family history can influence likelihood of future drug use.

Are Adoptees High Risk for Substance Abuse? Does adoption cause addiction?

The most perplexing thing is that no one plans to become addicted to drugs or alcohol, and people from every culture, background and income level are susceptible to addiction. Sure, there are those that have been shown to be more susceptible to drug and alcohol addiction, but the truth is, in over a century of studying the disease of addictions, scientists have not been able to discover the cause of drug abuse and drug addiction. In the end, no one can predict who will or will not become addicted.

Also, studies indicate that prevention and education can help in cases where adoptees are at high risk for substance abuse. Early intervention, along with awareness and knowledge of signs of substance abuse by the adoptive parents can reduce risk of substance abuse in adoptees.

If your loved one is in need of addiction treatment, please give us a call at 800-951-6135.



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