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Indigenous Intergenerational Trauma and Addiction

It is a devastating fact that Native American people suffer disproportionately from addiction. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, over 26% of Native Americans aged 12 or older reported marijuana abuse alone.

One of the primary reasons for such high rates of addiction among the Indigenous American population is intergenerational trauma. Intergenerational trauma occurs when traumatic events get passed down through the years.

Trauma can impact you through the environment or genetic inheritance. Either way, it can lead to negative behaviors and mental health conditions. And this cycle can be extremely hard to stop.

How does intergenerational trauma work? And why is it associated with the development of addiction? We are answering these questions and more in this guide to intergenerational trauma and addiction.

What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

Intergenerational or transgenerational trauma is a theory about what happens when trauma impacts not only a person but also their offspring. Here is how it works.

First, an individual witnesses some sort of trauma. Traumatic events include being a victim of a violent crime, witnessing the death or violent attack of a loved one or peer, or prolonged spousal or parental abuse, whether it is physical or emotional.

Next, the individual who was part of or witnessed the traumatic event passes down that trauma. This cycle repeats throughout the generations, creating a cycle of trauma that is hard to end.

But you may wonder: how exactly does trauma pass down through the generations? Scientists have identified two possible mechanisms: the environment and genetics.

Behavioral Transmission

Behaviors are learned through interaction with our environments. As children, the main environmental influence on our learned behavior is our parent(s).

Parents’ coping mechanisms to deal with generational trauma could “rub off” on the child. For example, if you see your parent using alcohol to cope with stress, this habit could influence your behavior as you grow up.

Genetic Inheritance

Trauma may also have a direct impact on our genes. We receive about 50% of our DNA from our parents, so what affects them could go on to impact us.

For example, imagine an individual who experienced chronic stress throughout their lifetime. Chronic stress can make changes to chemicals that interact with your DNA. These changes can then pass down to that individual’s offspring.

How Does Intergenerational Trauma Impact Addiction?

Intergenerational trauma can show up in many ways. Importantly, one of the effects of inherited trauma from your ancestors is to your mental health. And addiction (AKA substance use disorder) is a type of mental health condition.

As mentioned earlier, seeing a parent use substances to cope with stress or life struggles can increase your risk of developing an addiction. But this is not the only reason generational trauma can lead to substance use disorder.

The traumas Native American people experienced, in particular, may influence addiction. Residential boarding schools historically forced Native American children to give up their cultural identities and assimilate.

Assimilation led to a loss of cultural identity for thousands of Native Americans. And that is not even to mention the tragedies that occurred to Native American people throughout history.

Many of these events occurred a long time ago, though some more recently than you might think. And this loss of cultural identity is a trauma that reoccurs with each new generation.

How to End the Cycle of Intergenerational Trauma

If you want to effectively deal with your substance use disorder, you must first address your trauma(s). It can be scary to deal with the troubling things that happened in our past.

But with the following tips, you can begin to heal.

Communicate With Your Loved Ones

Talking to friends and family about your trauma is the first step toward healing. This is especially helpful if your family experienced the trauma alongside you. Discuss how you feel and felt about what happened.

You can also seek support from your community. As we mentioned, losing your cultural identity can be traumatic. Talking about this loss with members of your community can be cathartic.

Seek Counseling for Your Unhealed Trauma

Many counselors are specifically trained to help people deal with past trauma. They will help you identify negative coping mechanisms and thought patterns that are not helpful for healing.

Then, your counselor can help you create new strategies to deal with stressful events in the future. You will learn positive coping mechanisms like exercise and meditation. And you will learn how to identify negative thought patterns and make new, more positive ones.

Find a Native American Addiction Recovery Center

Did you know there are addiction treatment centers for Native American people? These centers are specifically tailored to help the Native American community heal from SUD.

At Sunrise Native Recovery, we also have the skills to help with generational trauma. Our program is sensitive to your cultural traditions and needs while also relying on traditional 12-step programs.

Click here to learn more about our culturally focused addiction recovery program.

Sunrise Is Here for You

The journey toward addiction recovery will not be easy. But you can begin to heal with the help of your family, community, and counselor. And when you address the trauma passed down to you, you can stop the cycle for good.

Are you ready to start healing from intergenerational trauma? We have services tailored toward our Native American community. Learn more about our 3-step admissions process and get the help you need today.

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