Specific studies undertaken about possible links between teen addiction and adoption are somewhat scarce. This should not suggest, however, that children, who were adopted, whether domestically or internationally, are not at risk of substance abuse.
The causes of addiction relate directly to the reasons that children are removed from their birth family. These include abuse, neglect, and substance abuse. The other primary factor is a pre-disposition to substance abuse and other psychological issues.
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Dr. Stephen V. Faraone, author of Straight Talk about Your Child's Mental Health, says that a complex combination of genes and environment (i.e. chaotic parenting, stress, social adversity) impact whether a person will develop a psychological disorder/substance abuse problem. Adopted children may bear genetic influences, as well as early environmental stresses. The foundation for potential drug abuse, then, can begin to accumulate early in an adopted child's life, even before adoption.
A study conducted in 1995 by the University of Iowa points to factors that form genetic pathways that lead to drug abuse and dependency. The study suggests that one pathway goes directly from the biological parent's alcoholism to drug abuse. The other pathway, as the study describes it, is less direct, yet still significant. It begins with an antisocial personality in the biological parent, passes through an adoptee's issues of aggression, conduct disorder, antisocial personality disorder, and ends in drug abuse or addiction.
The issues underpinning the reasons for adoption are the same as those that contribute to possible drug addiction, according to the study, "Childhood Abuse, Neglect, and Household Dysfunction and the Risk of Illicit Drug Use: The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study." Published in the Journal of American Academy of Pediatrics in March 2003, the study says that children who were maltreated in childhood were more likely to experiment with drugs earlier and to become a substance abuser.
The Vermont Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services developed a program in 2001 designed to offset the negative impact of a child's early years. A specialized program was developed to prevent the cycle of addiction that can occur with children who enter the foster system. Foster parents were trained to be positive role models through words and action, and to live and promote a healthy, substance-free lifestyle.
Certainly, all adopted children are not going to become addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many teens will easily adjust to their adoptive families, pass through high school with no more than typical teenage issues, and will move into successful adulthood. Some may be motivated by challenges in their early years, to experiment with drugs/alcohol, but will move past this with minimal intervention. Others, however, may become addicted to various substances because of early influences.
Any parent, teacher, friend, or medical professional working with adopted teens, needs to be aware of the impact that a child's negative early life might have on a propensity to drug use and abuse.