Generational Effects of Alcohol and Drug Use

The events of our childhoods have a direct relationship to our parents’ childhoods. Their childhoods also relate to the early lives of their own parents. Hence, it’s all about generational effects.

Majority of family stories in the United States involve immigration a few generations back. Now let’s think for a moment what our great-grandparents went through. They immigrated to the United States at a young age, hoping for a better life as they fled a difficult situation in their home country. Thus, they’ve been literally thrown on a boat by their family, and alone, in their early teens.

Our Parents Sordid Narratives In America

When our relatives landed in America, their lives were far from what was promised. Consequently, young children were forced to work in factories. It didn’t matter if they stayed on the East Coast or migrated west. They were forced to work on farms and clear land for sustenance.

So, they had moved to the United States, not speaking the language, and ending up on a small, rocky farm in Wisconsin.

That generation had children in their late teens in their early twenties. At the time, marriage for love was not a consideration. Rather, matches were made for reasons of labor and property.

The Comparison With Our Grandparents

Our grandparents’ generation on the other hand, lived through the Great Depression and a war. Consequently, young men that went to war in their late teens returned to start families. They began with their high-school sweethearts at the ages of 19-22.

Comparatively, I had children at forty. I was financially independent and I owned a house. Therefore, I spent my twenties trying to find myself and exploring many different paths in life. In retrospect, if I had children at twenty, I would have missed out on that opportunity. Not to think of supporting a family on the meager earnings that I made at my first job.

As we think about the hardships that our progenitors endured, we can do one thing. We can understand what affected our parents’ childhoods. The generations above them lived through great hardships. This includes losing families, having siblings that died young, and a lot of hard work.

The Lesson From Our Progenitors

If we look at substance use in these generations, we can understand addiction as a coping mechanism. (Cash-strapped teenage parents may have few others.) Look at the trauma of losing culture, family, and country. This will drive anyone to cope by using alcohol.

People of those generations tried their best to raise their children, but didn’t have much bandwidth to parent them.

So, understanding the trauma that our predecessors went through, helps us to understand our own stories. Relatively, this alleviates the shame of addiction. Our parents were raised by young adults that were dealing with a lot of their own trauma.

Once we understand intergenerational trauma, we move toward a place of acceptance of our parents. Thus, it opens us up to reflect on our childhoods, our parents’ trauma, and the way that trauma affected us.

About Adam Banks

Adam Banks is a certified interventionist and the owner of Adam Banks Recovery. After receiving an MBA from the University of Chicago, Adam built a company that was later acquired by United Health Care. His discipline and attention to detail comes from his former career as an airline pilot, holding an ATP, the FAA’s highest license.

Today, Adam is dedicated to helping others achieve long-term sobriety. His work has guided executives, pilots, and physicians on paths to recovery. Adam brings families together through a loving and inclusive approach.

Adam has authored four books on addiction. His recent work, Navigating Recovery Ground School: 12 Lessons to Help Families Navigate Recovery, educates families on the entire intervention process. He also offers a free video course for families considering an intervention for a loved one. 

Adam is available for alcohol and drug intervention services in New York, Long Island, the Hamptons as well as nationally and internationally. 

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