Skip to main content

Intergenerational Trauma and Teen Addiction


teen suffering from addiction

Addiction, also known as substance use disorder, is listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) as a chronic brain disorder. It is characterized by compulsively engaging in rewarding stimuli (e.g., abusing drugs) despite harmful consequences. A young person that struggles with addiction will prioritize satisfying his or her drug cravings above all else. Addiction encompasses and affects all aspects of a teen’s life. There are several risk factors that have been reported to increase a young person’s propensity for developing an addiction. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse these include environmental risk factors, genetics, one’s drug of choice, family history of substance use disorder, and personal health history. However, the exact reason behind why a young person develops an addiction remains unknown.

What Is Intergenerational Trauma?

Good Therapy explains “intergeneration trauma (sometimes referred to as trans- or multigenerational trauma” is defined as trauma that gets passed down from those who directly experience an incident to subsequent generations.” It was first recognized in the mid 1960s as a type of trauma experienced by descendants of Holocaust survivors. One study from 1988 found that grandchildren of Holocaust survivors were overrepresented by nearly 300% in referrals to psychiatric care. Research has since discovered that intergenerational trauma extends beyond the population of the descendants of Holocaust survivors and the effects of trauma can be transferred from one generation to the next in any population. Unprocessed, ignored trauma can become a driving force in an adolescent’s choices and if left untreated can erode a young person’s life. 

Do They Intersect?

It would be erroneous to claim that there is no connection between intergenerational trauma and addiction. As is previously noted, there is no single scientific reason explaining why a young person develops an addiction. Rather current research indicates that its development is more accurately attributed to a confluence of contributing factors. It is not uncommon for a teenager struggling with addiction to have experienced intergenerational trauma that heavily influences their substance abuse. In some cases, intergenerational trauma is so deeply engrained into a teen’s psyche that he or she may be entirely unaware of its presence. Still this unknown yet suppressed trauma can significantly influence a teenager’s worldview and how he or she exists in the world. Intergenerational trauma can play key a role in a young person developing an addiction as well as his or her recovery process. 

For Information and Support

Seeking help is never easy, but you are not alone! If you or someone you know needs mental health treatment, we strongly encourage you to reach out for help as quickly as possible. It is not uncommon for many mental health difficulties to impact a person for the long term. The earlier you seek support, the sooner you and your loved ones can return to happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives.

Our admissions team is available to answer any general questions regarding mental health issues, treatment, and/or specific questions about the program at Pacific Teen Treatment and how we might be able to help your family. We can be reached by phone 24/7 at 800-531-5769. You can also contact us via email at

Close Menu
Back to top