Can family toxicity contribute to addiction?

The simple truth is that there is something to my argument that an entire culture can become “traumatized” and then reflect PTSD symptoms.   The drive for relief from the constant and seemingly nonexistent source of the anxiety that accompanies PTSD becomes so ingrained within a community that it isn’t even aware that it’s driving their behavior.

I believe it’s important to take into account this ancestral programming when dealing with opiate addicts from this region. Really, if an addict’s family has been here at least three generations, then I’m willing to bet all that I am that he or she has family history that would suggest PTSD in some form or fashion.

I believe this because my own ancestors were driven from their own lands and had to figure out ways to just “be” in a new government that valued individual gain above communal gain. When NM became a state (and also while it was a Territory), opposing forms of law and education and language made life quite difficult for the Hispano. Even today, I see Hispanic families that attempt to maintain their “extended family” economy and fail miserably. The truth is that what may have been successful three generations back is no longer viable. The sad fact is that several Hispanic families in this region have clung tenaciously to ideas about economics and “togetherness” that are more toxic than they are healthy.

I’ve known people who desperately want to get clean, but face immense pressure from their own families to continue using heroin. It’s almost the same argument I faced when I left the barrio: The neighborhood always made comments about me thinking I’m too good because I went to college and didn’t accept that poverty was my destiny. In the same way, I’ve heard people actually say that their father/uncle/brother told them that they thought they were “too good” for the family by getting clean. As little sense as it makes to an outsider, because I understand the pressure of family history, I at least understand the pressure the person who seeks sobriety faces within his or her family system.

Again, I see that family pressure as a combination of social and genetic programming. Usually, when someone’s addicted to something in Northern New Mexico, and if that family has been here at least three generations, then the programming model I’m presenting suggests that the tendency towards addiction probably has been passed down from one generation to the next. I have evidence to that end: According to Shah, “These data show that heroin and psychostimulant addiction is highly heritable” (p. 134). The painful truth is that the genetic susceptibility and the region’s social programming has created a situation in which it’s an almost inescapable fact that my home and culture has been tainted from the legacy of isolation and economic marginalization that our history has developed. The point at which I need to arrive in all of this research is: What do we do about it?

I think that, just as the root cause of the problem lies within our family histories, so too does the solution. Cultural empowerment has got to be a part of that solution.