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Intergenerational Trauma, Substance Use Common Among Black Women

— March 15, 2023

Multi-generational trauma can lead to drug, alcohol use and involvement in the criminal justice system, study shows.

A new study suggests that trauma leads to high levels of intergenerational substance use among Black women, and race and gender may play a role. Researchers from Penn State and the University of Kentucky examined the effects of trauma and family drug and alcohol use on substance use and child welfare outcomes among Black women. Each increase in the number of parents or grandparents with drug and/or alcohol problems was associated with 30% increased odds of women’s drug use and 40% increased odds of these women having an open Child Protective Services (CPS) case with their children.

Black women in the United States are disproportionately affected by substance use disorders (SUDs). Approximately 7.2 million women in the nation have SUDs and almost 20 million reported illicit substance use in the past year, according to government data. The study highlights that more attention is needed to better understand the needs among Black women, especially as the relationship between trauma and SUDs may be more pronounced because of their race and gender. The research reveals that the consequences of trauma and intergenerational substance use have a lasting impact on these women and their children.

Intergenerational Trauma, Substance Use Common Among Black Women
Photo by Christina Morillo from Pexels

“On average, the women in our sample were 35 years of age. Parents and grandparents of this age group would have lived in a much different society with limited access to substance use treatments, and excessively punitive consequences for different racial and ethnic groups who use substances. Our results may reflect the ongoing consequences of these issues,” said Abenaa Jones, assistant professor of human development and family studies.

The study’s sample comprised Black women who were already in the criminal justice system, either on probation or in prison, and the findings showed high levels of intergenerational substance use among Black women regardless of whether they were recruited for the study from the community or through involvement with the criminal justice system. Women in prison reported an increased likelihood of feeling shame compared to women on probation or those not involved with the criminal justice system.

“The pervasiveness of intergenerational substance use, trauma, and experienced childhood trauma throughout the study indicates that importance of understanding the prevalence and impacts of these issues among Black women and other minority and indigenous populations. The study’s findings call for multiple community-level interventions specific to criminal justice settings and substance use treatment,” said Carrie Oser, Endowed DiSilvestro, professor of sociology at the University of Kentucky and the principal investigator of the grant.

The study highlights the importance of interventions such as strengthening self-esteem in romantic and non-romantic interpersonal relationships, which other studies have noted to be essential factors in recovery from SUDs. Additionally, Black women are more likely to use informal resources like family and friends, which may provide support against the impacts of racism and misogyny.

“Our hope is that by examining the connection between intergenerational trauma and substance use, we can expand upon and target interventions to groups of people who are already understudied and underserved. And it is critical to underscore that this is a first step, but much more work is needed,” said Jones.


Study: Trauma causes high levels of intergenerational substance use among Black women

Study shows connection between trauma and intergenerational substance use among Black women

2018 NSDUH Annual National Report

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