Breaking the family cycle of intergenerational trauma and addiction

Phoenix Futures
Monday, October 2, 2023

It is recognised that many adults accessing drug and alcohol support have witnessed substance use and experienced trauma in their own childhood.

Phoenix Futures has been supporting families for more than 20 years and achieving positive outcomes. Picture: Phoenix Futures
Phoenix Futures has been supporting families for more than 20 years and achieving positive outcomes. Picture: Phoenix Futures

Sadly, support, education and the systems around families can be stigmatising towards addiction, fail to support positive change for the whole family, and inadvertently perpetuate intergenerational trauma and addiction.

Parents can find it hard to make the decision to access appropriate support to address longstanding and complex needs relating to their substance use. This can be due to them feeling fear of judgment, shame due to societal stigma towards addiction or that their children may be removed from their care. They are unlikely to trust, or feel able to be open with, professionals in order to confront change.

We are aware that addiction has a big cost on society, where one person’s substance use can affect up to five others, including those directly related and children. Children will grow up wanting to know their parent is safe, can meet their needs and can provide them with a stable loving home. Enabling families to end this cycle of addiction and abuse allows stability and reduced impact much wider than the family themselves.

We are aware that confronting change is not easy, especially when balancing the needs of parenting. Our National Specialist Family Service works with families to break down these barriers and allow parents to break that cycle whilst in a supportive environment caring for their children. The service, based in Sheffield, supports families from across England and Wales in an abstinence- based residential setting. This includes single parents, couples and pregnant women and the service allows them to address their substance use whilst caring for their children.

We have been supporting families for more than 20 years and achieving positive outcomes. Recent data shows that 84 per cent of families complete our programme successfully and research has shown that 70 per cent of families were still together and thriving four years after completion of the programme.

Our family service offers safe, structured residential drug and alcohol treatment to parents and their children, up to and after birth. The specially designed treatment programme is focused on long-term recovery.

The therapeutic community model is a participative, group-based approach to address substance use and focus on recovery. It is designed to encourage the development of parenting, life, and social skills through engagement in daily structure, routines and activity. This includes 1-to-1 support and therapeutic group work, which are provided alongside parenting guidance and intervention.

Feedback from parents who successfully graduate and complete the programme is positive, with families staying in touch and celebrating successful recovery years after leaving the service.

This includes a mother, ‘A’, who attended the service after finding out she was pregnant with her third child. She already had two older children who were living with a family member and was scared that, without support, she may have a further child removed from her care. She had lost contact with her family and her older children and she had limited positive support around her. She fed back the following, after celebrating over four years remaining in recovery and caring for her daughter.

‘Phoenix has changed my life, it taught me tools to take with me out of the service, including basic life skills that I did not have in the chaotic lifestyle and living on the streets. I still follow the tools, routine and structure in my life today. My children have got their mum back, and I have a life that I love. I never thought I could be clean for four and a half years. There was a time that I could not go 24 hours without using drugs. Phoenix was my home. I changed so much in the time I was there and was not the same person when I left. I want others to know recovery is possible.’

Through engagement with the programme of support, ‘A’ gave birth to her child whilst in the service, and then left, caring for her child and relocating to a new area to enable a fresh start. Four years later, she continues to care for her child, has established new supportive relationships and has regular contact with her older children and family through her continued abstinence and recovery. She has retained positive relationships with the professionals working with her, and displayed thanks that she can be the mother she has always wanted to be and provide her children with a positive childhood.

Our service provides an opportunity for a whole-family approach to support, breaking the cycle of intergenerational trauma around addiction. This allows families to experience stability and safe parenting, enabling a future filled with hope.

To find out more about the service and the support we can offer, please call 0114 268 5131 or email

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