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Trauma can be both learned and inherited. In other words, trauma can be passed from parent to child through the home environment or genetically, known as generational trauma. In this article, we will discuss methods to break the cycle of generational trauma through alcohol or drug addiction recovery by first examining what learned and inherited trauma are and how they occur.

What Is Generational Trauma?

The Community Mental Health Journal defines generational trauma as “a discrete form of trauma which occurs when traumatic effects are passed across generations without exposure to the original event.” Trauma can be passed from one generation to the next at the genetic level, meaning inherited, or through learned behavior. You can inherit trauma from your parents both through your DNA and by being taught trauma responses through parental modeling.

Learned Trauma Behaviors

In the Journal of Clinical Nursing,  it is stated that generational trauma “can be transmitted through attachment relationships where the parent has experienced relational trauma and have significant impacts upon individuals across the lifespan, including predisposition to further trauma.”

The primary source of modeled behavior for children is their parents. If a parent has experienced trauma that informs their behavior, that trauma-informed behavior is modeled for their child. This can happen without intent. Rather, the parent is coping in the way they know how. It’s possible the parent is modeling behavior they learned from their own parent. The child then learns to react to stimuli triggering to their parent with their own unhealthy response.

This type of trauma-informed behavior can impact responses to stimuli that might not need to be viewed as triggers for the child because they do not pose a threat. When the child becomes an adult, they can continue to model the trauma-informed behavior to their own child, thereby passing them on generationally. Addiction can be among these behaviors or informed by them.

Genetic Trauma Behaviors

Trauma inherited at the genetic level happens when the parent who has experienced trauma experiences a change at their genetic level. For example, alcohol use disorder (AUD) develops when alcohol is consumed consistently and over a prolonged period of time. In Trends in Neurosciences, it is noted that circuits in the brain are rewired to respond to continued alcohol consumption or its lack. This change is molecular, taking place at the epigenetic level, and can be passed on genetically from parent to child. This makes the child more likely to experience AUD as they are predisposed to the development of addiction.

Generational Trauma and Addiction

Unhealthy coping mechanisms contribute to addiction, especially when combined with a genetic predisposition. The most effective means of breaking the cycle of generational trauma is prevention. This means addressing trauma and addiction as early as possible in your own as well as your child’s life.

Further, when addiction is examined as a coping mechanism or self-medication, it means there is an underlying problem that substance use is trying to soothe. It’s also possible to be unaware of the root cause of your substance use. This can stem from unmet needs in childhood, creating the potential for you to be unaware of what your needs are as an adult. Your mental health is directly related to the way your needs were met or unmet in childhood; this too, informs generational trauma and addiction.

Healing Generational Trauma

Also from the Journal of Clinical Nursing is the following:

“Prevention requires trauma-specific interventions with adults and attachment-focused interventions within families. Preventative strategies need to target individual, relationship, familial, community, and societal levels, as addressing and preventing trauma requires a multipronged, multisystemic approach.”

Identifying the source of trauma behaviors is vital in resolving them and replacing them with healthy behaviors and coping techniques. It may also be beneficial to remove yourself from the physical location of these behaviors — such as your parents’ home — for a period of time to gain clarity on what these behaviors are and what triggers them.

West Coast Recovery Centers offers multiple modalities for healing. Individual and group therapies are great options, but we also offer music and art therapy, meditation, medication-assisted treatment and gender-informed therapy to allow you a safe space to begin your recovery away from triggers and temptations.

Preventing Trauma in Future Generations

Childhood experiences set the foundation for trauma. If you have unresolved familial trauma that contributes to your addiction, it is possible you are modeling trauma-informed behaviors for your children. In order to break the cycle, you will need to seek treatment for these behaviors and learn new, healthy coping techniques you can then pass on.

Generational trauma occurs when certain behaviors are passed down from one generation to the next without direct exposure to the trauma that started it. This means trauma can be passed down at the genetic level or via learned behavior without you directly experiencing the source of the trauma. Generational trauma can contribute to addiction by promoting unhealthy coping mechanisms from an early age that are never unlearned. If you or someone you love want to break the cycle of transmission and begin addiction recovery, a mental health professional can help you can learn healthy coping skills. West Coast Recovery Centers offers multiple modalities for healing generational trauma, including family and individual therapy, which address the source of your trauma responses as learned behavior. If you are ready to break the cycle of generational trauma and begin healing, call WCRC at (760) 492-6509 today. 

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