Drugs in the Family: the Impact on Parents and
Published by Joseph Rowntree Foundation
When a young person develops a drug problem, it has a profound
effect on all family members, throwing family relationships into
crisis and increasing the chances that younger brothers and sisters
will also become problem drug users.
Yet government policy and professional practice tend to focus
exclusively on the individual drug user themselves, ignoring the
damaging impact on parents and siblings, as this study points
Families were “almost universally thrown into shocked disarray”
by the discovery that one of their children had developed a problem
with drugs, the study finds. “For most, if not all, families it was
an event of such deep significance that it completely and forever
changed the family and its sense of itself.”
Initially, all the families tried to contain the problem without
seeking support from other agencies and felt a ashamed. Parents who
did join family support groups found them helpful, but this
happened only after years of living with a child with a drug
Parents often argued bitterly about how to respond to their
child, especially when money and property was being stolen from the
family home by the drug user.
Siblings felt that their parents were focusing all their time
and attention on the child with the drug problem, but they were
also drawn into the problem both to try to prevent their sibling
stealing from the family and as mediators between their parents and
the drug user.
The research found that, as a result of their older sibling’s drug
problem, younger brothers and sisters were themselves exposed to
drugs. Many saw their older sibling taking drugs and became
familiar with the equipment they used with some becoming curious
about trying them. Children who did not follow in their older
siblings’ drug-using footsteps said this was because of the effects
they saw it having on the drug user and the rest of the family.