Birth order does seem to affect personality to some degree. First-born children are typically more responsible and conscientious. They do better in school. They learn early on that they have to look out for someone else. They may feel pressure from their parents to excel. Youngest children tend to be more impulsive and self-centered. They are protected by both their parents and older siblings, although sometimes they are protected from their older siblings. Middle children often feel lost and struggle to find their own identity. They may resent the attention their older and younger siblings get and feel the need to compete with them. They are sometimes the family peacekeepers.
Various studies have claimed that each of these is more prone to addiction for various reasons. Oldest children feel anxious because of parental pressure to succeed. Middle children feel lost and unsupported. Younger children are impulsive and self-centered. Each of these can create a vulnerability to addiction under the right circumstances. However, none of these points to a clearly elevated risk based on birth order.
What does put children at a greater risk is having a parent with addiction. Once addiction is added to the equation, we immediately see how each of these roles is transformed by the need to cope with a chaotic family life. The oldest child becomes the hero, the responsible one who shields her siblings from the negative effects of her parent’s addiction. The youngest child becomes the mascot. She’s somewhat protected from the harmful effects of the addiction, and she may be more outgoing and like attention. She tries to keep things pleasant by amusing others. The middle child may be the scapegoat or the lost child, unsure of her identity and frequently overlooked. Or she may be rebellious, looking for attention, or at least a way to get out of her older sibling’s shadow. Under normal conditions, this may be fine, but in a family with addiction it may manifest as troublemaking, and draw blame from the rest of the family.
This is all to say that birth order does appear to make a difference, but when it comes to addiction risk, the question is more ‘how?’ than ‘how much?’. Other factors such as parental addiction, adverse childhood experiences, mental health issues, and lack of social connection are far more important risk factors. Birth order won’t make you significantly more likely to have substance use issues, but it may affect what they look like.
Located in downtown Midland, The Springboard Center’s mission is to offer programs and services to treat alcohol and drug addiction treatment using an evidence based curriculum, 12 step programs, diet, nutrition, exercise, emotional, mental and spiritual development for a long recovery. For more information, please call us at 432-620-0255 as we are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.