The Legacy of Inter-Generational Addiction and Recovery

addiction and recovery in generations of family

I was re-reading my last article on controlling behaviors, and thoughts about the inter-generational aspects of addiction kept coming to mind. Because so many people raised in families where there is addiction present, grow into adulthood and connect with people who have substance use disorders (SUDs).


Inter-Generational Addiction and Recovery

According to the National Association of Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), “1 in 4 children are living in a family were at least one parent has addiction to alcohol or drugs.”  That’s a good number of future adults to connect with someone with an SUD. It’s also a number of future adults with a higher than the normal likelihood of developing an SUD themselves. Many people ask WHY? HOW could this happen to me, after I vowed to never end up with someone who was a substance abuser! Never use myself …


The real question should be, “What sort of family experience do I want for my children and grandchildren? How can I stop the inter-generational addiction in my family?” At the Sanford Family Program, we discuss the role of family in recovery. Recovery both for the family and for the loved one with an SUD. And we discuss and share Claudia Black’s Family Rules.


Don’t Talk – Be quiet, keep your thoughts to yourself, no talk of family outside this family

Don’t Trust – There is too much confusion and mixed messages in this family

Don’t Feel – It’s hard to feel the negative stuff about this family, I’m not sure what I feel

It Will Never Happen to Me  Claudia Black, PhD.


Dr Black’s family rules apply directly to families where alcohol or drug abuse are present and the family is untreated.  These same rules apply to families where other dysfunctional and chaotic structures are present. In either situation, these family rules are barriers to the development of healthy coping skills. Also to the development of healthy long-term relationships.


Breaking the Family “Rules”

When adults in the family stay quiet and deny their concerns for a loved one’s SUD, they are reinforcing the “Don’t Talk Rule.”  And they are modeling denial for younger people who look up to them. When adults in the family do not own or speak their obvious concerns and feelings, they present mixed messages to the children in the family who are watching. In this case, they are demonstrating the “Don’t Trust Rule”. 


And when adults in the family keep busy with tasks and activities and stay emotionally distant from the member with an SUD, they are modeling avoidance to younger members of the family who look to them for direction and support.  They reinforce the “Don’t Feel Rule.”


Parents Teaching Children …

These rules are bound together. One rule reinforces the other. This raises the level of conflict and confusion in children in families with addictive disorders. Parents teach their children how to distrust themselves and their thoughts and feelings. Thus, leaving their children vulnerable to low self- esteem.


As a child I remember hearing adults say, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” This was said when adults were talking about behaviors and traits of younger family members. Claudia Black’s Family Rules sure bring clear meaning to that old saying!


As a new parent, I recall receiving a copy of an old saying by Dorothy Law Nolte, “Children Learn what they Live!”  This “age old saying” is another reminder young people are highly impacted by the behaviors of the adults close to them. So, what I have said throughout this article, answers the questions many people have about WHY and HOW this happened to me. 


inter-generational addiction like acorns from oak

Addiction and Recovery is Passed Down through the Generations …

Research has shown that both positive and unhealthy characteristics can be passed on from one generation to the next.  Let’s look at the whole picture of addiction and families when we decide about our own energy for behavior changes and recovery.


Inter-generational effects of substance abuse can have a negative impact on role modeling, trust and concepts of normative behavior that can damage the relationships between generations. SAMSHA


We know that the development of a substance use disorder is complex. Genetic and psychosocial factors play roles in the risk for developing an SUD.  A good way to use the control we do have, is to do what we can as family members, to present role models of personal emotional accountability in the face of SUDs. What will be your legacy?  




Caroline (Carli) Parmelee-Noffsinger has 20 years clinical experience including: primary therapist and case manager for residential, IOP and outpatient therapy. Carli’s primary role at Sanford House is facilitating the Family Program. She is currently updating and revising the program design and content and hopes to improve upon an already successful approach to family intervention. In her free time, Carli spends time with her horse. She has been a horse lover and owner for most of her life and has facilitated equine therapy sessions. She says, “The back of a horse is good for the inside of a person.” You can reach Carli with questions about The Sanford House Family Program at