When people go into addiction recovery programs, they often feel like they’re being separated from their loved ones and forced to fight this battle alone. It can be a very difficult feeling to grapple with. However, the reality is that most families need to heal from addiction together. Substance use disorder (SUD) affects a far-reaching web of people beyond the addicted individual. Children, spouses, parents, siblings, and friends all feel the pain of watching someone they love be taken over by this disease. Beyond that, they may have endured trauma on account of the addicted individual’s behavior or the second consequence of it.
While it’s important to remember that the recovery journey is primarily about the health of the person with SUD, all of those affected deserve to seek and receive help. The best way to heal from addiction is to heal together.
What Is Generational Trauma?
Generational trauma, also known as intergenerational trauma or ancestral trauma, is a complex and pervasive concept. It refers to the transferring of psychological and emotional wounds from one generation to the next. This phenomenon arises from the idea that trauma experienced by individuals or communities can have lasting effects that extend beyond the immediate victims, impacting the following generations. You can think of it like a trickle-down effect; the victim of the initial trauma gets soaked with water, and if they don’t dry themselves off, they’ll drip onto all of their loved ones, too.
At its core, generational trauma suggests that the experiences of trauma can become imprinted in the collective psyche of a community or family. This can influence their lives greatly. Their beliefs, behaviors, and emotional well-being can all be impacted by a traumatic event that didn’t even happen to them. These traumatic experiences can range from large-scale events such as war, genocide, or natural disasters to more personal traumas like physical abuse, addiction, or loss of a loved one.
One of the key ways that generational trauma is perpetuated is the passing down of coping mechanisms and survival strategies that were developed in response to the initial trauma. Here’s an example: a person whose parents survived a war may inherit a heightened sense of hypervigilance, anxiety, or mistrust. For the parents, it’s a logical and helpful skill to develop. However, when taught to the next generation, these skills no longer have a place. The children may be left with uncontrollable feelings of anxiety and mistrust that harm their relationships and well-being.
Generational trauma can also manifest in family dynamics, affecting the ways in which individuals communicate, form relationships, and deal with conflict. Unresolved traumas can create patterns of dysfunction, emotional distance, or even abuse within families, which then get passed down to subsequent generations if not addressed.
Breaking the cycle of generational trauma often requires conscious effort and healing work. The first step is acknowledging the existence of generational trauma, as it prompts individuals to consider the impact of their actions and choices on future generations.
It’s important to note that generational trauma is not deterministic. While it can influence an individual’s experiences and behaviors, it does not determine their destiny. You and your children can rise above the unfortunate impact of traumatic experiences. With awareness, support, and appropriate interventions, individuals and families can work towards healing and breaking free from the cycle of trauma.
Addiction as a Source of Trauma
SUD can be a significant source of trauma for both the addicted individual and their family. Addiction can look different for different people. It can involve substances like drugs and alcohol or behavioral patterns such as gambling or compulsive eating. The trauma of addiction often stems from the profound impact that addiction has on every aspect of a person’s life and the lives of those close to them.
First and foremost, addiction is often a traumatic experience for the addicted person. Some of the traumatic psychological effects include:
- Guilt and shame: Addicted individuals frequently experience intense feelings of guilt and shame due to their inability to control their addictive behaviors. This emotional turmoil can lead to low self-esteem, self-hatred, and even suicidal thoughts.
- Physical and emotional health: The physical and emotional toll of addiction can be traumatic, as individuals often struggle with deteriorating health, chronic pain, and mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
- Loss of relationships: Addiction strains relationships with family, friends, and partners, often leading to abandonment and isolation. The loss of these connections can be deeply traumatizing.
As a result of these traumatic experiences, a person with SUD may develop defense mechanisms and coping skills such as:
- Lying to family members
- Hiding behaviors related to addiction
- Concealing health problems
- Misdirecting anger and self-hatred onto others
- Shifting blame onto others
These defense mechanisms help the addicted person continue consuming substances, which is often their main goal. It’s important to remember that they don’t act this way out of true malice. The chemical and psychological dependence in their brain makes it nearly impossible for them to put anything else before their preferred substance. However, the effects of this behavior can be devastating for the people who love them.
The parent-child relationship is made up of a role model, the parent, and an active learner, the child. Especially in their formative years (birth to late adolescence), children watch their parents as models of how to behave and treat others. That means that when a child sees their parent lying, being secretive, blaming others, or projecting anger at others, they may learn this behavior and copy it. This is one way that parent-child relationships are affected by the trauma of addiction.
Another way is that children may become the victim of their parent’s behavior. Parents with SUD are more likely to inflict physical and emotional abuse on their children or neglect them altogether. A parent who is often physically or verbally violent teaches their child to be anxious, passive, and fearful. It breaks the trust that parent-child relationships are based on, and so later in life, the child of an addicted person may have issues trusting others, especially authority figures. A parent who neglects their child teaches the child to be hyper-independent and to shut others out in stressful times. This can lead to failed and broken relationships in the future.
Addiction exerts a profound and pervasive influence on spousal relationships, breaking the very foundations on which partnerships are built. One of the most devastating consequences is the gradual erosion of trust. Addiction often involves a web of secrecy and deception as the afflicted spouse tries to hide their substance abuse or addictive behaviors. This constant cloak-and-dagger existence chips away at trust. It can leave the non-addicted partner grappling with doubts about the honesty and authenticity of their relationship.
As a consequence, communication within the relationship starts to crumble. The addicted partner might become increasingly distant, defensive, or evasive. This can make it hard to have open and meaningful conversations. The non-addicted spouse, in turn, may resort to nagging or anger as desperation sets in, which can deepen the chasm of misunderstanding and resentment.
Emotional detachment often ensues, with the addicted spouse directing their emotional energy toward obtaining and using the substance of choice. The non-addicted partner feels sidelined, alone, and unimportant. They may feel like their spouse cares more about the substance than them. This can lead to profound feelings of isolation and betrayal.
Financial strains can also be a direct consequence of addiction. The costs associated with sustaining the addiction or addressing its consequences, such as legal fees and medical bills, can place a heavy burden on the family. This financial strain can escalate into arguments or remain unspoken tension. In the most severe cases, addiction can lead to legal troubles, such as arrests or imprisonment. These legal issues bring added stress and turmoil, with long-lasting legal and financial consequences.
In some instances, roles within the relationship undergo a dramatic transformation. The non-addicted spouse might unwittingly assume the role of a caretaker or enabler, which can perpetuate the addiction. Consequentially, the addicted partner allows and encourages this because it helps them satisfy their cravings. This dynamic can be emotionally exhausting and lead to a sense of powerlessness in the relationship.
Moreover, addiction’s toll extends beyond the emotional realm. The chronic stress associated with living alongside addiction can take a severe toll on the physical and mental health of both spouses. Anxiety, depression, and physical health issues may manifest as a result of this ongoing chaos. Intimacy, both emotional and physical, often diminishes significantly in the shadow of addiction. The relentless pursuit of substances eclipses the emotional and physical intimacy that once thrived in the relationship. This can leave both partners feeling disconnected and unsatisfied.
Addressing the corrosive impact of addiction on spousal relationships often necessitates professional intervention, such as couples therapy or addiction treatment programs. Open and candid communication, the establishment of clear boundaries, and seeking support can also play pivotal roles in the path toward healing and rebuilding trust in a relationship weathered by addiction. The journey is daunting but possible. With dedication, patience, and mutual understanding, it can lead to recovery and a renewed sense of connection.
Heal From Addiction With Our Family Program
Avery Lane believes that in order to fully heal from addiction, you have to do so as a family. That’s why we offer weekly support and education groups for the loved ones of those in our care. In these sessions, you’ll be educated on the disease of addiction, learn about enabling behaviors, and talk about the dangers of codependency.
Being educated about addiction is a crucial step in the healing process for families affected by addiction. Understanding the nature of addiction, its causes, and its impact on individuals and relationships fosters empathy and reduces stigma. It equips family members with the knowledge to recognize signs of addiction, enabling early intervention. Education also offers insights into effective communication and boundaries, promoting healthier family dynamics. By grasping the complexities of addiction, families can provide better support, avoid enabling behaviors, and engage in the recovery process as a united front. Ultimately, education empowers families to navigate the challenging journey of addiction recovery with greater understanding and resilience.
Learning about enabling behaviors is vital for a family’s healing from addiction trauma. Understanding these behaviors helps family members recognize their unintentional role in perpetuating addiction. It sheds light on actions like covering up, providing financial support, or rescuing the addicted individual, which can inadvertently hinder recovery. By identifying and addressing enabling patterns, families can establish healthier boundaries, encourage accountability, and create an environment that supports sobriety. This knowledge empowers them to shift from enabling to a more constructive, empathetic approach, ultimately fostering the addicted individual’s recovery and helping the family heal from the deep wounds caused by addiction.
Codependency is an issue that often goes hand-in-hand with enabling behaviors. A codependent relationship happens when one person neglects their own needs and well-being while obsessively focusing on the addicted individual. They often do this out of desperation to maintain the relationship. Understanding this dynamic helps family members recognize their role in the dysfunctional cycle, fostering self-awareness and empathy. By addressing codependency, families can break free from destructive patterns, establish healthier boundaries, and prioritize their own emotional health. This shift enables a more supportive, balanced environment. The addicted individual and the family members can heal and recover together, ultimately contributing to the restoration of familial well-being.
Heal From Addiction With Al-Anon
Al-Anon is a worldwide fellowship that provides support and resources for the friends and family members of individuals struggling with alcoholism or substance abuse. Founded in 1951, it is an integral component of the larger Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) community. Al-Anon offers a safe and confidential space for those affected by addiction to share their experiences, find solace, and learn healthy coping strategies. At Avery Lane, we encourage family members of those in our care to attend Al-Anon meetings for additional help. Here’s a closer look at how Al-Anon helps families heal from addiction.
- Understanding addiction: One of the key benefits of Al-Anon is that it educates family members about addiction. Many attendees may initially lack a deep understanding of the nature of addiction. Al-Anon meetings provide a platform to learn about the disease model of addiction, the physical and emotional toll it takes on individuals and the complexities involved.
- Supportive community: Al-Anon meetings create a sense of community and belonging. It’s a space where individuals can openly discuss their experiences, emotions, and challenges without judgment. Being in the company of others who are going through similar struggles can be immensely comforting and validating.
- Sharing and listening: Al-Anon meetings encourage sharing and active listening. Family members can express their feelings, fears, and frustrations without judgment. They then receive empathetic and compassionate responses from others. This exchange of personal stories fosters emotional release and helps those affected heal from addiction.
- Healthy coping strategies: Al-Anon teaches healthy coping strategies and communication skills. Attendees learn how to set boundaries, detach with love, and avoid enabling behaviors that inadvertently perpetuate addiction. “Detach with love” is a key Al-Anon principle that means maintaining one’s own emotional well-being while offering support.
- Recovery focus: While Al-Anon primarily aims to support the families of people with SUD, it also indirectly contributes to the recovery journey of their loved ones. By learning healthier ways to interact and support their loved ones, family members can positively influence the person with SUD’s journey to sobriety.
- Personal growth: Al-Anon fosters personal growth and resilience among family members. It encourages self-care, self-awareness, and the development of a more balanced and fulfilling life, independent of their loved one’s actions.
- Anonymity: Al-Anon meetings are conducted with a strict code of anonymity, creating a safe space where attendees can share their experiences openly without fear of judgment or disclosure.
If you or someone you love is struggling with the disease of addiction, it’s vital that you reach out for help as soon as possible. You may feel alone, but there are millions of people around the world going through the same thing. Some of those people are right here in the San Fransisco Bay area at Avery Lane Women’s Rehab. We are ready to help you and your family heal from addiction and the trauma that it causes. At the end of the day, it’s up to you to stop generational trauma and the cycle of addiction. We can help you take the first steps. Give us a call at (800) 270-2406.