Even adoptees in loving homes can experience trauma and identity issues

Adoption: What You Need to Know

Young adulthood is a time of developing autonomy, creating independence, launching into college or work, and creating an individual identity. However, this developmental stage can be especially difficult for adoptees, no matter how loving their adoptive parents are. As teens and young adults seek to discover who they are, it’s common for that discovery process to trigger feelings of loss or abandonment associated with their birth parents. This can result in difficulty leaving the home, sabotaging success, struggles with relationships, and anxiety about the future.

When someone has been adopted there are often internalized beliefs about not being wanted, despite love and reassurance from adopted parents and other loved ones. The attachment disruption that stems from adoption can lead to a deep sense of abandonment, rejection, loss, confusion, identity issues, and shame. This leaves the young adult vulnerable to searching for acceptance and a sense of belonging in unhealthy places. Left untreated, this underlying trauma can fuel addiction, mood disorders, risk-taking behaviors, expectations of further abandonment, and suicidal ideation.

dinner with parents and teenager

Potential Effects of Adoption

Adopted children and 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.

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

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.

The Stats on Adoption

  • 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.
  • Children with RAD have a higher risk of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity.
  • 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.
  • According to one study, being adopted made individuals twice as likely to receive mental health services or have a disruptive behavior disorder.

Treating Issues Related to Adoption

Young adult adoptees often seek treatment for unhealthy behaviors or substance use disorders that developed to medicate the feelings related to having been adopted. At the Claudia Black Young Adult Center, clients are able to recognize the impact adoption has had on their development, challenging shame-based beliefs, and begin to heal layers of delayed grief.

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 proven effective in helping individuals process and overcome emotional trauma, including trauma from adoption.

According to one study, being adopted made individuals twice as likely to receive mental health services or have a disruptive behavior disorder.

Help for Issues Related to Adoption

Adoption 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 adoption. 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.

Claudia Black Center entrance
 Adoption hands

Featured Article: Adopted Children Often Face Mental Health Struggles as Young Adults

Adopted children are almost twice as likely to suffer from mood disorders like anxiety, depression, and behavioral issues.


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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