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Generational Trauma and Substance Use Disorder

Everyone has a basic understanding of genetic traits that are passed down through generations, from physical characteristics to medical genetic conditions. What many people may not realize is that trauma can also be genetically passed down through families. This is called generational trauma (or intergenerational trauma or transgenerational trauma). There is a relatively new field of study known as epigenetics, changes that occurred to the genome induced by environmental events, and which can genetically be passed down. Through the studying of epigenetics, they believe that trauma causes changes to an individual’s DNA, and that gene change is passed down to future generations. Because trauma affects genetic processes, this can lead to traumatic reactivity being heightened in their future generations.

Common Symptoms of Generational Trauma

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Panic attacks
  • Low self-esteem
  • Lack of self-confidence
  • Nightmares
  • Insomnia
  • Hypervigilance (sensitive fight or flight response)
  • Mistrust
  • Aloofness
  • Substance Use (using alcohol or drugs to cope with trauma symptoms)

Many people who experience trauma will use drugs or alcohol to help them cope with the symptoms they experience from trauma. Generations can continue to pass down this behavior of using substances to deal with their pain and other trauma symptoms. This is why you will see some families with multiple members over several generations using alcohol and drugs.

The counselors at Aspire Counseling Services are experienced at helping their clients analyze their behavioral and thought patterns to determine whether their behavior is a reaction to trauma, or generational trauma. Our counselors at Aspire can then help to develop a personalized treatment plan to help their clients learn healthy ways to deal with their trauma or generational trauma and end their struggles with alcohol or substance use.

Generational trauma that is tied to addictive behaviors does not mean that all generations will deal with addiction, but the physiological changes in the brain will make some people more susceptible to addiction than others. Aspire can help with generational trauma and substance use issues.

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