Trauma from abandonment can fuel addiction and mental health conditions

Abandonment: What You Need to Know

Emotional abandonment is a form of trauma that usually results from the behavior of significant others, predominantly parents. Abandonment can occur from a variety of experiences and be either physical or emotional. When there is parental addiction or mental health problems in the family, members experience emotional abandonment. The addiction or mental health issue becomes the central organizing feature in the family, it is what everyone is reacting to, and the needs of the child are often overlooked. An acrimonious divorce can produce the same result if children are used as pawns, ignored, or not given the attention they need.

Abandonment is also experienced when parents have rigid, perfectionistic, and unrealistic expectations. As a child attempts to meet those expectations and is not able to do so, anything less than perfect is experienced as failure. Not reaching the expected goal and doing less than sadly becomes translated into a shame-based belief that “who you are, is not okay.” When a young person is rejected by a parent or other loved ones for their sexual orientation, the emotional abandonment can have a significant impact, leaving them feeling alone and unloved.


Effects of Abandonment

Those who have experienced abandonment are more prone to developing attachment disorders or relational issues later in life. Two main childhood attachment disorders are Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) and Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED).

When children have Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD),they have a learned distrust of caregivers and do not seek them out when they are upset. They may appear sad or irritated in interacting with caregivers during ordinary activities or seem to have no emotion at all.

When children have Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder (DSED),they have a tendency to trust strangers and caregivers equally, being unable to distinguish who should be taking care of them. They may be overly friendly and unafraid of talking to, hugging, or going places with people they’ve never met.

As children with attachment disorders grow into young adults, they may experience separation anxiety and intense fear of abandonment.

In young adults, symptoms lasting six months or more (that are not explained by other conditions) may be classified as a separation anxiety disorder. Individuals with anxiety disorders or early trauma experiences can be more likely to use drugs or alcohol to calm themselves down. Mood-altering substances can worsen symptoms, however, and lead to addiction or the development of other mental health conditions.

Symptoms include the following:

  • Severe distress when anticipating or experiencing separation from home or loved ones
  • Irrational fears of adverse events that would separate the individual from loved ones
  • Refusal to sleep away from home or go to sleep without loved ones nearby
  • Persistent complaints of physical pain (stomach aches, headaches) when anticipating or experiencing separation from loved ones
  • Nightmares of being separated from loved ones

The Stats on Abandonment

  • According to a NSCAW report, 42% of children removed from their homes and placed in an alternate setting met the criteria for a behavioral health disorder.
  • Worldwide, one-third of mental health conditions can be traced back to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), according to the American Psychological Association.
  • Children who experience ACEs are 3-4 times more likely to develop mental health conditions by the time they become adults
  • Socially neglected children are more likely to engage in high-risk sexual behavior, turn to substance use, and experience jail time.
  • 8.5% of children placed out of their homes due to an investigation of mistreatment experienced three or more placements within 18 months.

Treating Issues Related to Abandonment

Without healing from these various forms of emotional abandonment, young adults are more apt to seek out relationships that are unhealthy, abusive, or emotionally unavailable, causing the cycle to repeat and emotional needs continue not to be met. The young adult can also be plagued by a fear of future abandonments, which creates a barrier to making healthy emotional connections in adulthood.

We utilize experiential therapies including neurofeedback, mindfulness practices, equine-assisted psychotherapy, challenge courses, trauma-informed psychodrama, EMDR, and Somatic Experiencing to address these issues. Our evidence-based treatment approach has been proven effective in helping individuals process and overcome emotional trauma, including trauma from abandonment.

According to a NSCAW report, 42% of children removed from their homes and placed in an alternate setting met the criteria for a behavioral health disorder.

Featured Articles

Understanding (& Overcoming!) Abandonment Issues

If you had healthy, secure relationships in childhood, particularly with your parents or caregivers, you’re likely to have a healthy view of how they work. However, if you experienced emotional neglect or traumatic loss as a child, fear and anxiety may be the driving factors in your adult relationships. The fear of being hurt or left by someone you love may cause you to take drastic measures to prevent the loss of loved ones. This can lead to a whole host of issues in relationships.

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Help for Abandonment Issues

Abandonment issues can have a range of adverse effects on a young adult’s life if they are not addressed. The Claudia Black Young Adult Center can help individuals suffering from trauma, substance use, or mental health conditions related to physical or emotional abandonment issues. We offer a comprehensive treatment program that focuses on healing the whole person, and our experienced staff looks forward to helping you begin your healing journey.

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Our experienced, compassionate Admissions team is here to help 24 hours a day and will treat you with the dignity and respect you deserve. Let our specialists help you create a road map to get you where you want to go: a healthier, more balanced, fulfilling place in life. When you call, you’ll be led through a series of questions to determine if the Claudia Black Young Adult Center is the right fit for your needs, and how soon your treatment can begin.

If you are interested in treatment for yourself or a loved one, call or fill out our convenient Admissions form!




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