Friday, April 24, 2009

Substance is not only a family disease but it is transgenerational

Claudia Black in her book, "It Will Never Happen To Me", writes, "While children of alcoholics are at high risk to become alcoholic, research demonstrates children of alcoholics are often prone to marry those who are, or become, alcoholic. In addition, my own research demonstrates that should a child of an alcoholic neither beocme alcoholic, nor marry an alcoholic, emotional and/or psychological patterns develop which may cause problems for this person in adulthood." p.xv

I have seen people who marry three times all to alcoholic partners. It is an uncanny phenomenon that most marriage and family counselors with 10 years or more of experience have witnessed.

The explanation, of course, is that the ACOA has learned habitual patterns of behavior as a child growing up and the person tends to continue to look for people unconsciously with whom they can participate in these familiar patterns.

The psychological legacy unconsciously transmitted to children from their family of origin is made up of the values, opinions, beliefs, and practices which they participated in and absorbed like little sponges. It is not until a person gets older do they begin to question whether they want to raise their children the same way they were raised or do it different. Murry Bowen, a psychiatrist who pioneered in family therapy, called it differentiation, meaning the degree to which a person becomes consciously aware of his/her psychological legacy and makes a conscious choice about what values, opinions, beliefs, and practices the person wants to continue and the ones the person wants to change. It is this conscious choice that Bowen believed contributed to a person's mental health. The more conscious one is of one's psychological legacy and the degree to which a person takes a stand on the values, beliefs, opinions, and practices, the person wants to live their life by, the more differentiated they will be and the more mentally healthy.

Claudia Black's point that children of alcoholics seem to continue with the dysfunctional values, opinions, beliefs, and practices of their family of origin has been demonstrated repeatedly. At GCASA about 60% of the admissions to GCASA's treatment programs report that they grew up in alcohol and drug abusing families.

The disease of substance abuse is clearly a transgenerational phenonmenon and unless the whole family gets treatment, it is more likely that the disease will be transmitted to successive generations.

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