Is Your Addiction a Result of Intergenerational Trauma?

Did you ever consider that your drinking habit had its roots in intergenerational trauma? This means trauma that is transferred through generations because the same mistakes are made and the children suffer similar scars.

Trauma happens. In families. And families can be the breeding ground for addiction. Addiction arises out of trauma. And no one is to blame. Discovering that your family is dysfunctional is a shock. Taking time to heal and move on is empowering. Not all addicts can do this. Not all traumatised adults can do this.

This quote says it all for me:

“Pain travels through family lines until someone is ready to heal it in themselves. By going through the agony of healing you no longer pass the poison chalice onto the generations that follow. It is incredibly important and sacred work.”

There is Trauma and Addiction in My Family

My mother is an alcoholic. My father was her co-dependent or enabler drinker. In other words, my father allowed my mother to drink, and he drank with her. My sister, brother and I drank a lot. My mother still drinks, my brother still drinks, my father passed away and my sister and I are happily sober.

My mother’s parents did not drink. They didn’t do much, in fact. They didn’t know how to have fun or how to love each other. My mother says she grew up in a loveless household and her parents only had sex once, hence her arrival! My father is from Irish descent and his ancestors drank a lot. His mother and father loved a drink and smoked cigarettes which were their downfall. My father’s brother and sister drink. Their children all drink.

So, what am I getting at? Addiction passes down the line through families. Often addiction is caused by trauma. A family trauma. This can be child abuse – physical, verbal, sexual, neglect or abandonment – and this can be something that affected the entire family – loss of home, income, parents or something.

Neglect and Abandonment are a Form of Child Abuse

The way I see it with my parents is this: my mother became an alcoholic due to neglectful parenting from her mother and father. Lack of love. My father drank because his parents drank and there was lots of fighting between his parents.

My sister, brother and I grew up in a boozing household. My parents drank, fought, loved, had parties, drank some more. We were taught that drinking accompanied every occasion be it happy, sad, challenging or maddening. My mom would check the time at midday and crack her first beer at 12 noon on the button. Sometimes it was 11h30 because she was that hungover. It was always, “Hi, can I get you a drink?” no matter what time of day people popped in.

When I look at WHY my sister drank and WHY I drank, I know now that the drinking only makes matters worse. But when you in it, doing it, you think the drinking is great and a real help!  When my sister and I stopped drinking, we also entered midlife, our 50s!

Mackenzi Kingdon writes about intergenerational trauma in a blog for Restoration Counseling in Seattle, USA:

“The truth is, it does not have to be you. Nobody is forcing you to be the person to address this pain. If you would like to keep living your life as it is, that is your own choice. But if you find yourself tired, stuck, and ready to move forward – you have the opportunity to enact real and meaningful change in your family for generations to come.  If you can consider it an opportunity or a gift rather than a burden, it may be easier to confront. There is no doubt that this is hard and grueling work. It requires a certain amount of vulnerability, soul-searching, and probably therapy.”

Wow, so we all have a choice to deal with our pain and to turn it around! My sister did this and is healing fast. I know that healing takes a lifetime and to speed it up a bit I walk and hike A LOT!

Take Steps to Stop the Cycle

Kingdon goes on to acknowledge how childhood trauma affects the adult. Many adults who were hit or physically hurt do the same to their kids. These adults often battle to love, show love or raise a child because they did not have loving role models.  Go figure!

Societies change and child rearing methods change all the time. Corporal punishment is banned in many countries, but parents then may resort to passive aggressive discipline or verbal abuse.  I know that both my parents suffered as children. My mother still drinks to hide her pain and she never dealt with it through therapy.

Another phrase for this problem is intergenerational trauma. Pain passes through generations. Within each family there are stories. Not one family on this planet is perfect, no sir! But pain is there, within every individual. The first step we can take is to acknowledge that pain, feel that pain, then deal with it to move on and stop the poisoned chain.

Ravikumar Bhalavat M.D states that intergenerational trauma occurs when trauma is transferred from one generation of survivors to the next, even though the second generation did not survive the trauma itself.

Intergenerational trauma, also known as transgenerational trauma is often passed from parents to children. Symptoms are often tied to the parents’ child-rearing, since their trauma symptoms influence how they raise their children. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes trauma is transferred epigenetically, meaning the trauma’s genetic effects are passed on even if they aren’t encoded in an individual’s DNA.

I believe that parents do the best they can under their circumstances. Some parents suffer with no money, no food and no hope. Their frustrations spill over onto their kids. Their kids sometimes lose all faith in their parents and hit the streets, finding peers they can call family. Dysfunctional families are part of society.

What is The Perfect Family?

I wonder if there is such a thing as The Perfect Family? I am not so sure! There are many parents out there trying to raise the perfect children, but we all have our own ideas about what the perfect children ARE. This is based on our own upbringings: if we had a happy childhood, we may try to emulate that. If we had a traumatic childhood, we may try to do the exact opposite of what our parents did.

There are parents who want their children to grow up earthy and in touch with nature; there are parents who are grooming their children to be boffins and to hit the business world and get rich! Every parent, not matter their style, can cause scars in their children. And just by the words we utter, the actions we take. And yet, we think we are doing our best.

Addiction is often a result of childhood trauma. If you read Gabor Mate you will find out that “all addictions — alcohol or drugs, sex addiction or internet addiction, gambling or shopping — are attempts to regulate our internal emotional states because we’re not comfortable, and the discomfort originates in childhood. “

Studies show that early stress affects both the nerve cells in the brain and the immune systems of mice and humans and makes them more susceptible to cocaine as adults. If you look at brain circuits implicated in impulse regulation or stress regulation or emotional self-regulation, all are impaired in addicts.

Bhalavat adds that there is a misconception out there that addicts need to sort out their shit and get clean and move on. Maybe. But many addicts were traumatised within a family environment and need help from others to get clean. Also, that family maybe had addiction throughout the generations and the addict has to now close the door on the patterns. But he / she needs help.

The worst part is that many addicts do not understand why they are addicts. They do not put two and two together and see that their substance abuse comes from a family pattern. They also tend to block out a trauma that happened in the family. They are driven by shame and guilt.

“Intergenerational trauma, also known as transgenerational trauma is often passed from parents to children. Symptoms are often tied to the parents’ child-rearing, since their trauma symptoms influence how they raise their children…”

So why, then, does trauma lead many people to addiction? Gabor says that trauma is about wounds. Real wounds where scar tissue forms. That scar tissue becomes the addict’s rigid response to life and how they live it – their relationships, their routines, their reactions and more. Many addicts do not know why they are in emotional pain and they will use anything to self-medicate.

“When psychological trauma happens, our psyches become more rigid and harder and less flexible.”

How to heal if you have transgenerational addiction in your family:

  • Communicate: Do not send a conscious or unconscious message that your family must be the only trauma carriers. Talk about what happened and how you felt, or feel, today. Stress that it is everyone’s responsibility to help each other with their feelings.
  • Seek Counseling: A qualified counselor helps you analyze your behavior and thought patterns. He or she can determine if you’re doing or saying certain things based on trauma, if your dreams carry evidence of intergenerational trauma, or if you’re dealing with complex grief.
  • Seek Help for Addiction: Trauma plays a huge role in many addiction cases. Contact someone qualified for a specific consultation. Knowing that you carry transgenerational trauma helps therapist know what kind of treatment you need.

You can also contact the recovery coaches at for assistance.


The 11 Year Fact

Did you know that the average dependent drinker will struggle alone for 11 years before reaching out for help?

Don’t wait for 11 years – join Tribe Sober today!