Adoption and Addiction

adoption and addictionA new study has highlighted how children who are adopted are at an increased risk of developing a drug or alcohol problem. Also, this study indicates that a predisposition to addiction could be present in children who come from families with a history of drug and alcohol abuse.A fundamental question in the study of human behaviour is whether someone is born with certain inherent personality traits or if a person’s behaviour is strictly a result of their combined experiences. This debate can be described succinctly as nature versus nurture. The answer to this question has important ramifications. For instance if nature, or ones genetics, is solely the cause of behaviour then how can we truly blame serial killers for their horrendous crimes. They were born that way. Likewise, if nurture is the sole reason why people become criminals as adults then surely there are certain damaging processes in society that if eliminated would eradicate crime altogether. Criminality could be socially engineered into oblivion.


As the body of evidence has grown we now know that in all but a few extreme examples one’s behaviour throughout life is a combination of their genetics and how they were brought up. Neither nature nor nurture takes an overwhelmingly dominant role. A horrendous and abusive childhood will not always result in that child also being abusive. A child from a loving and supporting family can still be a psychopath.

Despite this knowledge, researchers still can still reach important conclusions about human behaviour by studying the interaction of nature versus nurture and how they can play off of each other in an individual and society. One study recently published in the Archives of General Psychiatry by researchers from the Virginia Commonwealth University and Lund University in Sweden set out to tackle just such a question in relation to drug addiction.

In such a study, children who are adopted are necessary in order to establish a distinction in how much influence the adopted child’s upbringing plays when compared to their genetic predispositions, (if the adopted child’s biological family had a history of alcoholism or drug abuse for example). Researchers studied 18,115 children born in Sweden between 1950 and 1993. Alongside information on drug abuse obtained from legal, medical and pharmaceutical records the researchers also studied the children’s biological and adoptive relatives.

The results point to some telling conclusions. Adopted children who had at least one biological parent with a drug problem had an 8.6% chance of developing a similar problem themselves. The rate of drug abuse in Sweden for other children born during the window of this study was 2.6%. The researchers said, “Risk for drug addiction in adopted children is increased by a history in biological parents and siblings not only of drug abuse but also of alcoholism, major psychiatric illness and criminal convictions.”

Their data also highlighted the fact that an adopted child living in a high risk environment also had an increased chance of developing a drug problem regardless of biology. Furthermore, a child was at even greater risk of drug addiction later in life if raised in a high risk environment and had biological links to past addiction. The research stated, “A bad environment can augment the effect of genetic risk on drug abuse...In other words, genetic effects on drug addiction were less potent in low-risk than high-risk environments”

From this data it seems clearer than ever that both genetics and childhood environment play a role in how likely a person can fall prey to a drug problem. Adoptive children seem especially at risk due to the potentially fractious nature of their lives. Of course, not only adopted children develop drug problems, but the risk is increased. It is tough being a kid, but especially so if you were adopted.

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