Generational Addiction in Families

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Contributor: Crystal Karges, MS, RDN, IBCLC for Addiction Hope

Addiction in Families

addictionhope Generational Addiction in Families family in sand

For many families, addiction can be seen throughout several generations. An individual struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol may have a parent or grandparent that also had similar struggles. What is the connection of generational addiction in families and how does this impact someone’s risk for developing an addiction?

Generational addiction can be understood in two-fold: Environmental risks and biological risks. This means that different risk factors can influence generational addiction. Environmental factors include:

  • One’s surroundings
  • Social circles
  • Access to drugs or alcohol
  • Peer pressure
  • Exposure to traumatic events

Biological factors that can influence generational addiction include a person’s genetic make-up and neurobiology, which are aspects about ourselves that are pre-determined and out of our control.

Environmental Factors

The combination of both environmental and biological factors can increase an individual’s risk to developing an addiction. For example, a man or woman may be susceptible towards an addiction due to genetic factors inherited from their parents.

Environmental conditions can trigger an addiction to develop, such as if the susceptible person grew up in an environment where drugs or alcohol were abused.

Generational Addiction

lovers-414201_640What exactly is the impact of generational addiction? Research has shown that children who grow up in a home in which there is alcoholism are more likely to develop addiction problems of their own compared to children from homes without such problems.

Children with addiction within their home are two to four times more likely to develop an alcohol or drug problem [1]. This may be due to the combination of inherited genetic vulnerability, instability within the family unit due to addiction, poor communication among family members, and the stressors involved with a chaotic environment.

Breaking the Cycle

Although children in homes with addicted family members have increased risks and exposed to more vulnerabilities, there is hope for breaking the cycle of addiction through the generations. Just because a child has a parent or grandparent that struggles with addiction does not mean that they will automatically have the same journey.

Children in this position still have the opportunity to flourish and thrive without repeating the addictive patterns observed in their parents or in other family members.

If you or someone you know is in a family with members who struggle with addiction, know that there is hope for you to create a different life for yourself. The following are some suggestions that can help you or a loved one break the generational cycle of addiction and stand firm regardless of your family situation:

Connect with a Mentor:

If members in your family are struggling with addiction, it is important that you have other individuals in your life that can be a healthy role model of you. This might be an extended family member, trustworthy friend, church leader or counselor.

Building healthy relationships will help you have the encouragement and accountability you need in your life to withstand the risk of addiction.

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Find Treatment for Yourself:

Whether or not your addicted family member has sought professional treatment for their drug addiction, it is important that you receive the help you need for yourself. Having a family member with an addiction can be particularly trying, and addiction specialists can help you process some of the challenges you may be facing individually.

This might include becoming involved with a support group for family members of addicts, where you could connect with similar individuals.

Avoid Self-Blame:

It can be easy to feel as though you are to blame for the addiction problems in a family member, especially if they are close to you. However, it is important to remember that you are not responsible for the actions or behaviors of the people in your life.

Nor do you need to continue in the cycle of addiction. By seeking the appropriate care and help you need, you can create a different life for yourself.

There is Hope

Addictions are powerful mental illnesses that often cycle through families and generations. Whatever your background or the family you may have been raised in, know that there is hope for yourself and your future.

By recognizing and understanding the addiction problem and by seeking out care for yourself, you can establish a future that is hopeful and free of addiction.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with generational addiction in families? What types of support have you or your loved ones utilized in order to achieve successful recovery?


  1. Children of Alcoholics Community Action Guide,

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 13th, 2014
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About Baxter Ekern

Baxter Ekern is the Vice President of Ekern Enterprises, Inc. He contributed and helped write a major portion of Addiction Hope and is responsible for the operations of the website.