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Indigenous Intergenerational Trauma: Addiction in the Native American Culture

Trauma can happen to anyone regardless of their race, sex, culture, lineage, etc. However, those who are from cultures that have endured extreme violence, persecution, etc. are more susceptible to experiencing deeper roots of trauma and intergenerational trauma.

What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational trauma goes beyond one generation, as it involves the history of trauma experienced by previous generations. The trauma could be something like a war, sexual abuse, violence, oppression, persecution, and more.

Why are Native Americans experiencing intergenerational trauma? One reason is because historically, many were forced to relocate, attend state and church-run schools where they were forced to disown their heritage and adopt the language and culture of white Americans.

This type of abuse stripped children of their cultural identity and cause significant amounts of grief for whole families. This kins of historical oppression happened for many decades to Native Americans.

When this kind of trauma, or any kind for that matter, goes unaddressed, it can cause a host of mental, emotional, and physical symptoms, such as:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Substance Abuse/Addiction
  • PTSD
  • more

Plenty of children that were forced to attend the residential school system were abused in one way, shape, or form. At the very least, they were traumatized psychologically short and long-term. These children went on to become adults, and the grief and unresolved trauma they experienced got passed down to their own children.

Essentially, when someone goes through something traumatic or ongoing trauma, the pain and anguish doesn’t magically disappear. If the person does not actively pursue mental and/or emotional healing, it’s likely that their children and perhaps grandchildren will feel the negative effects of the trauma. In other words, they can be feeling significant pain consciously and unconsciously, and this will affect their lives and how they parent their children.

Families may not even realize what’s going on, as the effects of the trauma can become normalized, such as in addiction or violence.

Intergenerational Trauma and Communities

Just as trauma can impact a whole family, intergenerational trauma can affect whole communities. This type of trauma involves whatever occurred in the past, what’s occurring in the present, as well as what may happen in the future.

For example, think of the Holocaust that occurred in Europe. The survivors and in fact, entire communities have been impacted decades after the atrocities. The same goes for slaves, Native Americans, and more. The initial traumatic events may not be occurring today, but the impact from years before still manifests in negative ways in the lineage.

How Can Intergenerational Trauma Manifest?

There are various ways trauma can manifest in an individual and/or a community. Common ways include depression, anxiety, PTSD, violence, homelessness, and addiction. Chronic trauma, or trauma that occurs over time, can cause the brain to change structurally. It can literally leave a trauma trail on the DNA from one generation to the next.

However, with the rise of a new science called epigenetics, those who have been impacted by trauma are not without hope.  Those that have a lineage that experienced significant trauma may carry some of their ancestors’ pain, but they do not have to continue to suffer or feel helpless.

Healing Intergenerational Trauma

Healing intergenerational trauma is possible, but it does take awareness, time, and effort. Whereas others may be dealing with individual trauma, indigenous populations are dealing with accumulated trauma over decades or centuries. Awareness is the first step toward attending to the myriad of wounds caused by such.

Addiction & Native Americans

According to the National Institute of Health, American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/Ans) have the highest rate of substance abuse disorders in comparison to other racial/ethnic groups in the United States. This is due to various factors, with intergenerational trauma playing a large part. 

In addressing addiction, treatment centers and rehabs must take into consideration the history of the indigenous population.  If they simply treat the addiction and ignore the traumas of their generational past, they’re likely just putting a band aid over a gaping wound. Just treating symptoms will only take someone so far on the healing path.

Holistic Addiction Treatment

Treating addiction involves treating more than just the substance abuse.  It also involves treating any underlying causes, including trauma or intergenerational trauma. If you identify as Native American, and you’re struggling with addiction to alcohol or drugs, it may be helpful to know that there are treatment centers that take your cultural factors into consideration.

Here at Sunrise Native Recovery, we incorporate evidence-based addiction treatment with indigenous history and cultural and spiritual practices. We help you build a solid foundation for recovery and growth that includes your Native American heritage, culture, tradition, and community.

What Matters To You

As a Native American, it’s likely you have a worldview based on your lineage that differs than others.  As a culturally conscious treatment center, we include cultural and spiritual practices that will help you feel right at home, including:

  • Ceremonies
  • Medicine wheel
  • Talking circle
  • Sweat lodge
  • Hiking in nature
  • Music
  • Drumming circles

Arizona Native American Addiction Treatment

If you’re struggling with an addiction to alcohol or drugs, we’re here to help you get sober and create the kind of life you truly desire. After an initial assessment, we will connect you with one of our case managers that will help you in various ways, including employment, transportation, sober living, finances, and education opportunities.

You will also see a qualified therapist who will help you in addiction recovery, but also address trauma and intergenerational trauma.  This one-on-one care can help you address grief and emotional and/or mental health issues that may be keeping you stuck.

Building A Firm Recovery Foundation

Addiction can cause a significant amount of pain for the individual struggling with it, as well as their loved ones. Regardless of how long you’ve been trying to quit drinking or taking drugs, or where your addiction has taken you, know that help is available. And, there’s no shame in reaching out for it.

In fact, many people find that they cannot stop abusing drugs on their own. Addiction is a disease that affects the brain, and it may take an addiction expert to help break the cycle of addiction, as well as treat any trauma that may have caused one to begin abusing drugs in the first place.

If you want freedom from addiction, reach out today. We’d love to have a conversation with you about how we can best meet your recovery needs.

We’re here to assist you in getting – and staying – free and create the kind of life you truly desire.


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