The Link Between Adopted Youth and Substance Addiction

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When someone opens their home to adopt a child, they try their best to make it as welcoming of an environment as possible. However, many people forget to take into consideration the trauma the child has experienced before joining the home.

Additionally, adoption is inherently traumatic, no matter how hard the adoptive parents try to make the transition easier for the child. Being ripped from your birth parent’s home and sent to foster homes, group home settings, and eventually placed into a stranger’s home for adoption, can be confusing and scary. When you factor in transracial adoptees, children with special needs and LGBTQ+ youth, the trauma experienced can be intense.

As adopted youth grow up, they may struggle to deal with the lingering effects of their experiences. Many turn to drugs or alcohol to cope. Sadly, there is a link between adopted youth and substance addiction. According to research, “adoptees were 2.05 times more likely to have substance abuse or dependence.”[1]

Why are Adopted Youth More Likely to Suffer from Substance Abuse and Addiction?

Many adopted children come from homes where trauma is a given. Unfortunately, drug addiction, neglect, and abuse are all common themes among the original homes of adoptees, so it’s easy to see how an adopted child could grow up to develop a substance abuse issue–especially if they were not presented with proper coping mechanisms from the get-go.

The top 3 contributing factors to the link between the adopted youth and addiction are:


It is widely known that a genetic predisposition to addiction exists. If an adopted child’s birth parents suffer from addiction issues, there is a likelihood that without the proper coping mechanisms, they could eventually suffer from their own issues with substance abuse. Any predispositions to mental health conditions also put the adoptee at an increased risk of developing a substance use disorder as a means of self-medication.[1]


While not every adoptee experiences trauma, many of them do. Experiencing trauma and chronic stress can lead to a dysregulated stress system, making a person more likely to turn to addictive behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Many people who suffer a trauma deal with feelings of numbness and depersonalization, which often leads to the development of addiction and other negative coping mechanisms.


It is common for adopted children to feel like they are at the mercy of the people around them. This feeling develops as they are moved from a new home to a new home, unsure of what will come next. Eventually, this uncertainty and emotional chaos cause them to turn to substances to cope, leading to the development of an addiction.

Knowing the Signs of Adolescent Addiction

Addiction can be difficult to spot, especially if the person suffering from addiction is also going through puberty. The mood swings that should be attributed to substance abuse could be mistaken as hormonal, and so forth. With that being said, people with adopted youth need to be aware of the signs of adolescent substance abuse.

The behavioral signs of adolescent addiction include:

  • Avoiding eye contact
  • Breaking curfew or ignoring other rules
  • Behaving irresponsibly
  • Frequently asking for money
  • Stealing
  • Behaving secretively
  • Isolating from others
  • Damaging relationships with friends and family
  • Getting a completely new friend group
  • Making excuses for behavior or outright lying
  • Withdrawing from school or missing classes
  • Resisting discipline and authority figures
  • Losing interest in hobbies and activities

The physical signs of youth substance abuse include:

  • Poor hygiene
  • Changes in appearance
  • Rapid changes in weight
  • Glazed or bloodshot eyes
  • Small or enlarged pupils
  • Fidgeting and feelings of anxiety or paranoia
  • Changes in mood and rapid mood swings
  • Difficulty staying focused
  • Small track marks on arms and legs (wearing long sleeve clothes even in the heat)
  • Cold and sweaty palms
  • Shakiness of hands
  • Sores on mouth
  • Headaches
  • Extremely tired or being uncharacteristically hyperactive

How to Help Your Adopted Child Avoid Substance Abuse

The first thing you should do is understand that there is no adoption without loss. This could mean the loss of a beloved environment or the loss of their birth parents. Because of this, they should be attending therapy and being given the proper coping mechanisms they need to cope with such a loss.

Additionally, creating a strong bond with the adopted child is key. Having a good relationship with them will prevent them from hiding their curiosities about substances. As they get older, they will get curious, and it is always better for them to feel safe enough to confide in their adoptive parents about their questions and concerns about substance use.

Other ways to prevent an adoptive child from abusing substances include:

  • Education for the parent and child on addiction and drug abuse
  • Teaching proper coping mechanisms from a young age
  • Attendance of therapy before a problem begins
  • Treatment for mental health conditions if they exist
  • Creating strong bonds between the child and adoptive parent
  • Creating a welcoming and understanding environment for the child to turn to

And lastly, when substance abuse is spoken about, it should never be in an accusatory manner. This will only cause the child to become defensive or shut down completely, removing the possibility of positive discourse on the subject of abstaining from drugs and alcohol.

Finding Help for Substance Abuse and Addiction

If your adopted child suffers from substance abuse or addiction issues, it’s time to seek professional help. Addiction is a chronic and progressive disease that can lead to an array of issues, including potentially life-threatening health concerns. Because of this, professional treatment is necessary.

Contact New Jersey Interventions today for more information on treatment programs for adolescent drug addiction.



Medically Reviewed: July 1, 2022

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

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