Addiction is often considered a terrible gift that keeps on giving, and it can be handed down from parents to their children. If one parent is an addict, there’s a good chance you could become one too, and if both parents are addicts, the odds increase even more. Now writer Charlotte Philby examines the relationship between addiction and family, and if it can ultimately be avoided.
As Philby writes in Marie Claire, “Anyone who has grown up in the shadow of addiction knows the power it holds. As a child, you feel it when you’re driven from pub to pub in the small hours, looking for your dad’s car It is lodged in your chest as you wait to be picked up from school by a parent who doesn’t arrive. You see it in the eyes of the police officer who arrests your father for drunk-driving at 3pm in the afternoon. Is it any coincidence that children like me, who have grown up with the anxiety, chaos and shame of addiction often fall into similar patterns later in life?”
Philby added, “Considering my past, the fear of addiction has only been exacerbated by the idea that it is hereditary.” Yet Philby also cited a new book, Woman of Substances, written by addiction consultant Jenny Valentish.
As Valentish explains, “One widely held assumption is that addiction is hereditary. Sure, it is – in part – but only that you’ll have inherited poor impulse control, or some features that make you more vulnerable to stress…But repeated substance use can cause adaptive changes in the brain that are the basis for craving, binging, tolerance, and withdrawl.”
Looking back on growing up, Philby feels, “In hindsight, smoking, taking drugs and restricting my food intake were ways of simultaneously finding a release and seeking to take back control.” Her addictions started at fourteen, and she finally get help at age 26.
Philby also cited Dr. Gabor Mate, an addiction expert, who said in a Ted talk said that during World War II, “babies were picking up on the stresses, the terrors and the depression of their mothers. And that actually shapes the child’s brain…this is how we pass it on. We pass on the trauma and suffering unconsciously from one generation to the next.”
Now that Philby is sober, she finds her own family as a key to her recovery, and she thankfully got help before the birth of her first child. “At the time I believed it was my love for my unborn baby that was a more persuasive catalyst for change than the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy I learned in treatment. But still, eight years on, I find myself referring to the tactics I learned then when situations become challenging and my instinctive response is to reach for one of my many tried-and-tested crutches.”