Toxic Family Series: Generational Curses

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Generational curses perpetuate harmful behaviors from one generation to the next. They can stem from biological, psychological, and sociological factors. Generational curses can manifest themselves in the form of physical ailments (disease), emotional damage (depression and anxiety), broken relationships (divorce), poor financial decisions (debt), and spiritual problems (apathy).

The most common generational curses involve alcoholism, child abuse, drug addiction, domestic violence, maladaptive or abusive behaviors, and struggles with mental health. Generational curses are often brutal to break. They’re often reinforced by social structures and a lack of resources, and many people don’t realize that they’re in the cycle until it’s too late.

If you find yourself in the cycle of generational curses, take action. Learn about your family history, go to therapy, seek treatment, consider spiritual practices that resonate with you, and build a supportive network for yourself. It takes continuous effort to break cycles of addiction and trauma. Yet, it only takes one person to start the process. Let the change begin with you.

The Reigning Influence of Generational Curses

Family trauma, like any trauma, can create patterns that repeat themselves through generations of a family. Often family traumas manifest themselves as generational curses or generational trauma. Generational trauma often arises from war, slavery, abuse, substance use disorder, or even challenging economic circumstances and poverty.

Generational curses tend to pervade a bloodline via subtle harmful messages or maladaptive behaviors that children may learn from their parents. Subsequently, generational curses keep repeating because they seem normal to those participating or observing them. Once behavior becomes typical within a family, it no longer seems abnormal. That’s how society creates ugly standards that we feel obliged to uphold. However, we don’t have to accept them as inevitable; we don’t have to automatically follow in the footsteps of those who came before us.

Are You Stuck in a Generational Curse?

Family history, trauma, and individual experiences make it easy to get stuck in the generational cycle of alcoholism, drug addiction, and other forms of substance abuse. Many unconsciously repeat the same destructive patterns passed down through their families. As such, many lose themselves to the pervasiveness of these generational curses, stuck under its control.

Your family’s actions or behaviors can profoundly impact your life. Look for the following signs in your life if you believe you are being affected by a generational curse:

  • Sign #1: You have a family history of drug addiction or trauma: When addiction runs in the family, especially without proper treatment, it often passes down from one generation to the next. The same applies to mental health disorders such as depression or anxiety. Children, in these circumstances, suffer from genetic and environmental factors that leave them using or susceptible to using substances.
  • Sign #2: You relieve past traumas or dysfunctional dynamics with your current relationships: You struggle to maintain healthy relationships because you unconsciously choose individuals who will harm you (from reliving past traumas). Subsequently, your relationships tend to be dysfunctional and toxic.
  • Sign #3: You struggle to take care of yourself emotionally or physically: Toxic families often breed neglect. The children of these neglectful circumstances rarely receive the tools and guidance to healthily tend to their emotional or physical needs. Once they enter adulthood, these same children repeat the same pattern. They often neglect themselves emotionally or physically due to the emotional burden they carry around day-to-day.
  • Sign #4: You find yourself repeating dysfunctional relational patterns: Harmful relationships may seem familiar and comfortable to you because they reflect your childhood experiences. You may find that you are drawn to partners who are abusive, violent, or addicted to drugs or alcohol, even though you know in your heart of hearts that you deserve better. You might find yourself repeating these patterns despite your desire for healthy relationships.
  • Sign #5: You feel isolated or alone: People who struggle with addiction or trauma sometimes feel isolated. Do you often find yourself dealing with your problems alone, without any support? Like many others, you may fear ridicule from others, and thus you avoid speaking about your feelings. You may worry that others will judge or abandon them for your dysfunctional upbringing. Hence, you find safety in hiding yourself and your emotions from everyone.

If you’re suffering from generational curses, you may feel that you can’t escape. Fortunately, you can take steps to break the cycle of these negative influences.

A Prevalent Generational Curse: The Research Behind Alcoholism in Families

A genetic predisposition toward alcoholism can make some people more vulnerable to it than others. Research indicates that people raised by a parent addicted to alcohol are four times more likely to suffer alcohol addiction than their peers. Further research supports the influence of genetics.

The researchers relied on two study designs to investigate the influence of genes and environment in alcoholism: the adoption study and the twin study. Adoption studies compared the risk of biological family members to adoptive family members of those struggling with alcoholism. Alternatively, twin studies examined the identical and fraternal twins reared in the same home.

Both studies proved the dominant influence of genetics on addiction risk, which appears as strong in women as in men. Regardless of varying tools or methods, the outcome remains consistent. Ultimately, we can learn a lot about substance use disorder (SUD) and how people respond to drugs by knowing the correlation between genetic, epigenetic, and neurobiological responses to substance abuse. All play a significant role in any person’s health.

You can view this research as a gateway to your healing. Though the genetic component alone raises susceptibility for alcoholism, proper prevention and treatment can relieve said individuals of these consequences. Early intervention and treatment can often be successful for those with the disease, which is one reason it’s crucial for those with a family history of alcoholism to become aware of their risk factors as soon as possible.

A Growing Generational Curse: The Cycle of Drug Addiction in Families

Owing to its heritable component, the disease of addiction runs rampant in many families. Notably, genetic factors contribute to about half of an individual’s risk for developing SUD. Nonetheless, genetics plays only a small role in the overall picture of addiction.

For instance, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) put children at a greater risk for drug use and addiction than genetic factors. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), 12% of children live with a parent afflicted by drug or alcohol addiction. Many of these children are living through an ACE.

Such an environment will detrimentally influence their learned behavior and personality traits more than anything. For this reason, the dominant factor, or the generation curse, to SUD among people from toxic families rises from environmental factors, like ACEs and genetics.

Environmental Factors Lead to SUD and Mental Health Issues

Specific circumstances in a person’s life can lead to addiction, including the following types of situations:

#1. The Generational Consequences of Financial Insecurity

Poverty and financial insecurity can lead to family addiction. As such, we’ve seen it time and time again: the opioid epidemic has hit those in poverty the hardest. For instance, researchers found that adults in the lowest income category were more likely to initiate prescription opioid use. Essentially, people burdened with the misery and pressure of poverty seek a source of relief. Often, that relief means turning to drug use.

Other factors to consider include:

  • Those with low incomes are more likely to be prescribed opioids, even after accounting for differences in physical health status and access to health insurance.
  • Job loss increases the likelihood of substance abuse among people who have a history of drug use. Research links unemployment to the increased use of substances like marijuana and alcohol. Some people seek comfort from these substances.
  • Financial insecurity is also associated with lower rates of recovery from opiate addiction. Many lack the funds or opportunity for suitable treatment.
  • Parents who suffer from addiction often neglect their children. The resulting economic instability and lack of caretakers leave children vulnerable to foster care or state custody, both equally problematic. The cycle only perpetuates itself as time goes.

#2. The Generational Curse of Adverse Childhood Experiences

A groundbreaking study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Kaiser Permanente reported that ACEs significantly impact a child’s likelihood to perpetrate violence, victimization, and maladaptive coping. An ACE refers to an event that occurs before age 18 and includes physical or emotional abuse, neglect, and living with someone who has been incarcerated or has mental health issues.

Essentially, early life experiences can harm how the brain and a person’s perception of the world develop. These changes affect learning and memory, and physical and mental health throughout a person’s life. Accordingly, ACEs are also linked to a higher risk for developing SUD.

For instance, researchers working on the ACEs study published by the CDC discovered as the instances of ACEs rose, so did the following health risks:

  • Substance misuse
  • Risky behaviors
  • Depression
  • Negative impact on a person’s quality of life
  • Illicit substance use
  • Mental Health Issues

Ultimately, generation-to-generation curses are widely misunderstood. Many factors are at play, including family problems and specific coping mechanisms. Family issues can create a cycle of trauma and addiction; however, this pattern is caused by both genetic disposition and environmental factors.

Without appropriate treatment, specific symptoms can be long-lasting and worsen over time. Moreover, exposure to trauma early in childhood may negatively influence the development of the brain and cognition. Such a compromise affects a person’s capacity for resilience, especially against challenges. A genetic predisposition to SUD leaves a person extremely susceptible to developing an addiction if substance use is initiated.

#3. Families Normalizing Substance Use

Watching a loved one abuse drugs or alcohol can become a painful, brutal reality for anyone. When children see their parents turn to alcohol or drugs in times of stress, they learn to view this behavior as acceptable. Subsequently, these children grow up seeing it, as usual, to use substances to deal with their stressors or problems. Many eventually adopt this harmful habit into adulthood, which continues the generational curse of SUD.

#4. Parents With SUD Lower Children’s Self-Regulation

Growing up with parents who struggle with SUD may lead to poor discipline practices that hurt a child’s development of self-regulation (or inhibitory control). If a parent uses ineffective discipline or doesn’t consistently use practical discipline skills, they will be unlikely to control their behavior. The child may then internalize these poor controls as well.

Suppose the parents use disciplinary practices emphasizing punishment, yelling, or other disciplinary techniques that don’t involve reasoning. In that case, the child is also likely to fail to internalize mechanisms for self-regulation. Eventually, the child develops poor impulse control, making them highly vulnerable to substance abuse.

Overcoming Generational Curses

Few people appreciate the level of misery and despair associated with generational drug abuse, yet the problem persists. Tackling the problem requires understanding the problem pursuing treatment, and building a supportive network. You can start to break free from generational curses by:

#1. Stepping Outside of Your Family

If your family doesn’t seem particularly interested in discussing your trauma, or you feel intimidated to talk about your experiences, seek professional help. A therapist, a recovery group, or a doctor can help you understand what happened and protect you from slipping back into addiction. If you want to get through the healing process as quickly as possible, surround yourself with people who will support your recovery journey. Overall, seeking professional help is a sign of caring and wanting the best for yourself and your future, not a sign of betrayal towards your family.

#2. Finding Where the Past Meets the Patterns of Dysfunction

Understanding the cycle of dysfunction in your family tree will help make a change in your life. You might not have witnessed or experienced these traumas directly, but they may still affect you today. Ask your family members about any problematic issues or circumstances that have been passed down for generations. Don’t be afraid to ask difficult questions and dig deep for answers. The more information you have about these problems and how they’ve progressed over time, the easier it will be to take action to stop them from affecting your life further.

As you pinpoint the cycle, see where these family issues show up as current patterns in your life and identify those that may be problematic. Consider how these patterns have affected your personal life, family life, career, finances, spiritual health, and other areas. If you’re having trouble identifying these patterns on your own, consider working with a therapist or counselor specializing in generational curses that can help you pinpoint where they exist in your life and how they affect you.

#3. Recognizing the Value of Addiction Treatment

You can break the cycle of addiction by seeking help from an addiction treatment center with experience in childhood trauma and addiction recovery. This type of treatment facility will help you to:

  • Develop coping skills for stress, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues that arise as you recover from childhood trauma
  • Understand how your family history affects you
  • Learn how to recognize triggers that lead to substance abuse and identify alternative ways to respond to them
  • Understand the role of addiction in your life and learn how to overcome it
  • Develop the skills necessary to avoid relapse and live a healthy, drug-free life
  • Identify the connection between your childhood experiences and current behavior
  • Build confidence in yourself and increase self-esteem through positive affirmations and positive reinforcement
  • Recognize patterns of behavior that contribute to addictions or unhealthy relationships
  • Develop social and interpersonal skills that foster healthy relationships with others

White House Recovery and Detox cares about each man and woman who struggles with addiction. We offer customized addiction treatment to fit the unique needs of each person. Supportive, evidence-based therapy, holistic services, and our detox services can help you start on a path toward a healthy recovery.

Generational curses are more common than most people realize. Our families shape us in so many ways — for better or worse. If you recognize any of the generational curses above in your own life, now is the time to get help and begin healing. It’s never too late to seek help for yourself or a friend or loved one who you think may need assistance. Breaking a generational cycle starts inside each individual. No one should ever have to go through life without the support they need. If you want to break the cycle of trauma and substance use disorder, White House Recovery and Detox can help you achieve freedom. At White House, we are here to provide a haven for those who need help with healing from substance use disorder and trauma-related issues — whether they stem from generational curses or not. Call us today at (800) 510-5393 to learn more about our treatment options.