Breaking the Cycle of Addiction Across Generations

by AddictionCenter |

“The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” You may have heard this phrase in reference to the traits you share with other members of your family. Maybe you have your grandfather’s nose, your mother’s laugh or your uncle’s hard-working demeanor.

Unfortunately, there are also unhealthy characteristics that can be passed from one generation to the next. For many families across the nation, the struggle of addiction is a difficult cycle to break. Even just one person can impact a future generation’s substance abuse risk down the road.

Children are most vulnerable to the harmful cycle of addiction. Roughly 12 percent of children nationwide live with a parent who is dependent on a dangerous substance.

Although addiction can trickle down from generation to generation, you can help break the cycle in your family.

Preventing Intergenerational Addiction

Watching an addiction damage the lives of those around you is extremely difficult. At times, it may feel as though there’s no end in sight. But even if someone you love has struggled with addiction, there are steps you can take to help protect yourself from possible addictions of your own.

Everyone has a different path when it comes to recovery. Some people prefer to work through difficult times and situations privately with a therapist. Others, however, are more hands-on and enjoy sharing their story.

We’ve compiled some of the ways you can break free from a generational cycle of addiction.

Focus on the factors you’re able to control

Why expend all your energy wrapped up in things you have no control over? Instead, start using your time to focus on what you can control. For instance, you can be your biggest advocate or greatest critic – you control the outcome.

No matter how much you want to, you cannot change the people around you. You can only control your thoughts, actions and feelings.

Rather than overwhelming your mind with negative thoughts, remind yourself of your unwavering courage and resilience during tough times. Test yourself to come up with three positive thoughts for each negative thought. By replacing the bad with good, you’ll gradually pave the way to a better outlook on life.

Be honest with yourself and seek help

Seeing a loved one struggle with an addiction can leave a lasting impression and impact your life in ways you may not realize. You may even attempt to sweep your feelings under the rug. Instead of trying to erase painful memories, you should seek the professional guidance of a counselor. 

Lots of people avoid talking about their feelings…But repressing or damping down one’s feelings doesn’t make the feelings go away. If anything, they linger and fester.

- Marian Margulies, PhD, psychologist

An addiction counselor will support your sobriety and treat any underlying problems from the past. It’s not always easy to open up and discuss your feelings with someone, but counseling can provide you with the tools to overcome difficult times.

Talk about addiction and share your story

Your family’s history of addiction can cause you embarrassment, pain and confusion. Witnessing someone you love fall victim to substance abuse can fuel an array of emotions: anger, disbelief and disappointment. 

In children living in families with substance abuse, compliance is a survival tool…Children who grow up in a family with substance abuse become pseudo-adults, learning how to take care of their parents.

- Robert Neri, MA, LMHC, CAP, Senior Vice President/Chief Clinical Officer of the WestCare Foundation

It takes a lot of strength to stop the cycle of addiction and start fresh. Sharing your experience with others can help inspire those standing in your shoes. Your story has a message of courage and hope that can make a difference in many lives.

Practice relaxation techniques

The battle against addiction is ongoing. While some days are easier than others, cravings and urges can arise out of the blue. When faced with a complex situation, your body goes into survival mode. You may experience an increased blood pressure, racing heartbeat and sweaty palms.

Several activities to help practice relaxation include:

  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Rhythmic exercise
  • Biofeedback
  • Visualization

Research has shown that practicing relaxation techniques will not only help eliminate stress, but will also promote good health. Taking 10 to 20 minutes each day can help you balance your emotions and achieve mindfulness. [/list-desc]

Building a New Life

Addiction may be part of your past, but you have the choice of whether or not it’s in your future. Don’t let generations of substance abuse in your family define who you are and what you do in life.

It’s your opportunity to stand up to intergenerational addiction and take control of your life or help others learn from your experience and story.

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