Substance use disorders (SUDs) often stem from unprocessed trauma. Trauma comes in many forms, including direct, indirect, and multigenerational trauma. Historical, multigenerational trauma is trauma experienced by a community instead of by an individual. This trauma is usually caused by historical travesties and can be passed down from generation to generation. Some communities will recover from trauma easier than others, depending on the trauma’s nature and the community’s available resources.
Understanding Historical Multigenerational Trauma
Mental health expert, social worker, and associate professor, Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart describes historical trauma as the “cumulative emotional and psychological wounding over the lifespan and across generations, emanating from massive group trauma experience.” Communities pass trauma down from generation to generation through storytelling that retells the details of the traumatic events and the fears associated with it. Even though younger generations may not experience the trauma first hand older generations pass down the trauma.
For instance, a community might be less likely to speak up about their needs if doing so in the past led to a traumatizing event. One way multigenerational trauma is passed down is by example. A generation not directly affected by a traumatic event might still carry trauma-response behaviors by witnessing others in their community. These types of behaviors may include:
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal tendencies
- Aggressive behavior
- Substance use
Who Is Affected by Multigenerational Trauma?
A community affected by multigenerational trauma can be a group of people of the same ethnicity, have a shared experience, or are involved in the same organization via a place of work, worship, or learning. Historical trauma is often analyzed in the context of African Americans, Native Americans, and Jewish people due to their significant historical oppressions of slavery, mass incarceration, forced relocation, and institutionalized racism.
However, smaller communities, such as individual families or specific townships or cities, can be affected by multigenerational trauma. For instance, often, domestic violence carries from generation to generation of family members. On an individual level, growing up in a home where abuse is tolerated puts a person at risk of becoming abusive or entering an abusive relationship. So if an entire family unit or community promotes abusive behavior, it will be passed down from generation to generation and can become a toxic part of the community culture.
Causes of Community Trauma
Community trauma can be caused by natural disasters such as:
It can also be caused by the suppression of a community of people:
- Violent colonization
- Force relocation
- Servitude or slavery
- Mass incarceration
- Ongoing exposure to violence
Similar to individual trauma, a community can recover from traumatic experiences with the proper resources, but resources usually require money. So a wealthier community will likely recover more quickly from a natural disaster than a poorer community. When people and communities don’t have the resources to process their traumas healthily, it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Trauma and Substance Use
There is an inevitable link between trauma and substance use. A person with any mental health disorder is at a greater risk for developing a SUD. However, multigenerational trauma can put people at risk for developing SUD because some communities may use substances as a way to self-medicate. For example, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), Native American Youths living near a reservation are substantially more likely to use marijuana, alcohol, cigarettes, or other illicit drugs than American youths.
Trauma-informed care involves treating mental health issues in a patient by understanding their trauma. This requires mental health professionals to be cognisant and considerate of their patients’ traumas. Mental health professionals must use practices that don’t trigger, re-traumatize, or hinder patients’ emotional progress. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), treatment centers that use trauma-informed care utilizes four “Rs” when administering treatment:
- Realization: All treatment facility employees that administer trauma-informed care understand how trauma can affect individuals and a community. They view clients’ behaviors as coping mechanisms to deal with the traumatic event(s).
- Recognize: All employees are trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma and the different ways it can manifest depending on the person’s race, gender, ethnicity, etc.
- Respond: All employees are educated on a trauma-informed approach, which is applied to every treatment facility area, from mental health professionals to greeters. This means changing the language used and policies set in place to be considerate of patients’ traumas.
- Resist re-traumatization: All employees are encouraged to adjust the facility’s environment to avoid accidental re-traumatization and added stress by triggering memories of the traumatic event.
During trauma-informed treatment, mental health professionals must keep an open dialogue with their patients about their trauma. This treatment focuses on learning about the patient’s trauma and reprocessing it to treat other mental health symptoms.
Multi-generational trauma must be treated with attentiveness and consideration to foster emotional growth. A person’s recovery progress could be derailed if they do not understand how trauma affects their emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Restoration Recovery Center uses a trauma approach by offering modalities such as trauma therapy. We acknowledge that our patients are complex people and not just numbers. We tailor our treatments accordingly to meet each individual’s needs. Restoration Recovery Center guides its patients on their recovery journey to help them develop healthy coping mechanisms and find a sense of purpose. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use, please call (888) 290-0925 to learn how we can help support recovery.