Being able to be like a normal family: Mothers’ perspectives on the factors influencing illicit drug use and parenting

First published: 10 May 2019 | Last updated: 20 May 2019

The vast majority of research on parenting and drug use begins from a negative stance and actively looks for problems and risks.  The influence of wider structural and social factors is often not fully recognised or understood.  The questions I aimed to answer were:

  • What do parents see as significant, influential factors in their lives?
  • How do they perceive these factors as bound up with illicit drug use?
  • Which factors do individuals see as affecting their parenting capacity?
  • How do parents view the interventions of services?

A qualitative piece of research was undertaken in a large Northern city using a grounded theory approach to sampling and analysis.  The eleven participants were recruited through a specialist pregnancy and parenting team based within an addiction treatment centre.  All participants were mothers with opiates and crack cocaine cited as the main problem substances.  Participants took part in one semi-structured interview which was recorded, transcribed and coded for themes.

Analysis of the interviews identified five themes within the over-arching concepts of ‘being in control’ and ‘seeking choices.’  These were:

  • Parenting work and working at parenting
  • Managing drug use
  • Developing a supportive environment and relationships
  • Recognising and meeting emotional needs
  • Aspiring to a better future.

An understanding of the unique, interwoven factors that may impact upon a family and its ability to function well highlights the need for interventions which are holistic and delivered in ways that sustain and support rather than judge and undermine.


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Ms Katie Dunham