If you’ve struggled with an addiction in the past, you might have had an impact your children. There are two ways that parents and other family members can impact younger generations with their addiction, and that is through genes and through behaviors. Yet, even if your children and the younger members of your family have been impacted in this way, there are ways that you can help others in your family avoid the struggles you’ve had with addiction.
Genetics and Addiction
First, according to research genetics plays a 50% role in whether addiction in children will develop. One study, for example, examined the role of addiction in sets of identical and fraternal pairs of twins. The study found that when one of the identical twins was addicted to alcohol, the other twin had a high probability of developing an addiction.
On the other hand, when one non-identical twin was addicted to alcohol, the other twin did not have a propensity of developing an addiction.
Other Causes of Addiction
It’s clear that genes can influence whether a person will be vulnerable to developing an addiction. But just because a family member has the genes for addiction doesn’t mean that they will develop it. For instance, if a person never touches a drink or drug in their life, then genetics won’t be a factor. Obviously, there are other factors that play a role. These factors include:
- lack of coping skills
- history of trauma
- mental illness
Genes do play a role in the presence of addiction in a family, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Younger generations can also be impacted by living with others who have experienced addiction (the family environment), by the type of relationship that the family has to alcohol and drugs, and the use of any coping skills by family members when stressed.
For instance, research has found that children who are raised in families with addiction are 8 times more likely to develop an addiction. Other environments that can have an effect on someone include a drug-using college scene and an at-risk neighborhood, in which many individuals are using substances to cope.
Along these lines, a family with a lack of coping skills might also give way to addiction in one or more family members (especially if addiction is already present in the family). One of the most common contributors to addiction is that a person turns to drugs or alcohol as a means to cope and that they lack other coping tools to manage life’s stressors.
Steps to Prevent Addiction in Children
If you are hoping to stop the generational trend of addiction in your family, you can do that in three main ways:
- Encourage abstinence. You can’t stop genes from getting passed along in your family, but you can stop the addiction gene through abstinence. As mentioned above, even if someone has the genetic propensity for addiction, abstinence will stop those genes in their tracks. To help promote abstinence, talk to your children, and if appropriate, other family members about how to stay safe and sober through abstinence. You might also let them know that genes can play a 50% role in whether or not a person develops an addiction.
- Teach your family members healthy ways to cope with stress. Patterns of facing life’s demands are passed on through generations. Some families have many healthy habits they live by such as getting enough sleep at night, eating well, and exercising often. Other families might use other coping tools, such as supporting one another through tough times or regularly going to church as a means to connect with a higher power. Whatever those coping tools are, it’s important that each member of the family has some. And it’s equally important that the adults in the family are modeling the use of coping tools for the younger generation. What children and teens see their parents doing, they are likely to adopt themselves when they are adults.
- Talk about your family history. Because addiction tends to run in the family, you might have an uncle, aunt, or parent who has struggled with addiction, or still does. When addiction is the secret of the family that no one is talking about, it can continue to breed in that secrecy. Yet, if you are talking about addiction openly and discussing the dangers of substance use, then your children and others can make an educated decision about substance use when faced with it in their lives.
If you’re a recovering addict and you want to avoid the development of addiction in your family, the three suggestions above are key ways to keep addiction in children at bay.