Is Trauma A Matter Of Genetics?


Cortisol is an important component in trauma. When cortisol is too high or when cortisol is too low, the way we experience trauma changes. For some time now, science has contemplated whether productions of cortisol, affected by trauma, could be permanently genetic. After all, cortisol production as part of the fight or flight system is evolutionary, meaning the genes have mutated and developed over time. If it is true that cortisol can leave an imprint, that would mean trauma could leave an imprint as well. Some research believes this to be accurate and provable.

Lower Cortisol

According to the Spectator, people who survive severe trauma have lower cortisol levels. Holocaust survivors is an example they give. “Much more significant, though is the discovery that the descendents of those who have suffered war, violence, incessant fear also have lower levels of cortisol than average.” The article explains that there are writings since biblical times that negative experiences could be passed on from one generation to the next lie a haunting or a biological ghost. “Scientists now have proof that trauma is passed on, or rather its impact on how we feel, and how we behave, can be superimposed on the DNA of the next generation.”

Genetics of Trauma

Trauma is as much a genetic trait as eye color or the shape of the nose. The human design has evolved and shifted over millions of years. Serious trauma has only been happening to humans a short amount of time. Currently there is no discerning on the type of trauma that gets passed on. Though trauma has been considered the result of experiencing extreme violence in the past it has developed a more general definition. Studies regarding post traumatic stress syndrome discovered that people who experience abuse, both physical and nonphysical, can display similar symptoms to post traumatic stress disorder. Trauma can be anything which feels out of one’s control and causes psychological harm.

Abuse in the home is not genetic, but it is learned.The trauma of abuse in the home can be passed on, causing underlying attempts at compensation or attracting similar situations. Trauma is often co-occurring with substance use disorders. What cannot be controlled in trauma can bear the illusion of control under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Substance use disorders and mental health disorders are genetic as well. A child born with one or two parents with mental health disorders can be five times as likely to develop one as well.

Working on your trauma, your addictions, and your mental health is always about more than you. You affect everyone in your lives, present and future. When you decide to get sober and take action to change your life, you don’t just rewire your brain, you rewrite your genetic code, creating a happier future for yourself and your offspring.


Aurora Recovery Centre is a dual diagnosis treatment center providing residential care for both substance use and mental health disorders. If you are struggling to cope with trauma and need help, let Aurora be the light on the pathway to recovery. For more information, call 844-515-STOP.

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