Drugs and Alcohol

Family relationships, alcohol and drugs

Here, young people talk about their relationships with parents and family and whether their use of alcohol or illegal drugs affected these relationships.
Alcohol and family relationships
Some people felt that their parents had set a good example with alcohol. They described their parents as moderate drinkers and few had seen their parents really drunk. Hayley’s parents don’t drink very often but on the rare occasions they do, she says they seem ‘happy’.  Stephanie remembers that some of her friends’ parents would get ‘smashed’ but she never saw her parents get that drunk. She is grateful that she learnt about drinking through her parents’ example.
Parents had different attitudes to underage drinking. Some young people were allowed to drink a bit on special occasions but others grew up in households where alcohol was off limits. Joe’s parents allowed him to drink soft alcoholic drinks, like alcopops, in moderation before he was eighteen, but his father got worried when he found out the Joe had taken a bottle of whisky from his cabinet. He didn’t approve of him drinking strong alcohol at such a young age.
Emma’s parents didn’t talk to her about alcohol. She says it’s difficult for parents to understand what their children’s social lives are like. This makes it hard for them to talk about drugs and alcohol in a way that’s relevant. As a teenager, she would get ‘subtle drunk’, often staying over with friends when tipsy. A couple of people said that their parents didn’t know the whole truth about their drinking, and that they’d only told them later on.
As people grew up and took on more responsibility for themselves and their money, they tended to reduce their alcohol intake.
Drugs and family relationships
Some people talked about how their parents didn’t seem to realise that they were using drugs. Stephanie smoked cannabis for four years while living with her parents. Her mother noticed that she was moody and her behaviour was changeable but didn’t seem to suspect that Stephanie was smoking cannabis. Chloe’s mother knew she smoked cannabis but didn’t appear to realise that Chloe was using other drugs.
Charlie thinks that her parents might have guessed she was using drugs because she worked for an organisation wanting to legalise illegal substances. Her parents didn’t question her about it, preferring instead to ignore that part of her life. Harry’s father was more ‘switched on’ about drugs than his mother and let him know he was aware of his drug taking, but didn’t do anything about it.
It was difficult for people to tell their families about their drug use even when they realised they needed help. Craig thinks that people worry about their families finding out because they feel they’d be letting them down. When Craig’s family found out he was using cannabis, he was most worried about his grandmother’s reaction. He lived with her and he described her as a ‘no nonsense’ lady. He said that his family members all reacted differently and while his grandmother was against any drugs, his father and aunt were more understanding.
Some parents had been upset or angry when they found out that their children were using illegal drugs. Parents tried different ways to stop their children, such as:
  • Talking to them and trying to understand why
  • Getting more strict about discipline
  • Grounding them
  • Shouting at them
Some people recognised that they’d been violent or verbally abusive as teenagers. Mary Ann would become abusive and ‘smash’ the house up if she wasn’t allowed to do as she wanted. She was also expelled from school. As a teenager, Sam was only interested in using drugs and would be abusive to his parents. He said that they were scared of him because it wouldn’t take much for him to become aggressive.
Looking back on their teenage years, people could see how their behaviour hurt the feelings of those who loved and cared for them. Karis and Kasim described family relationships at the time they were smoking cannabis as ‘tense’. Kasim hardly spoke to his mother and Karis was hostile to hers. Tara says that her mother lived in fear of receiving a phone call telling her something bad had happened to her.
Family relationships can be difficult to mend. Michelle said that she’d never had a friendly relationship with her mother but things really got worse between them when she started using drugs and drinking alcohol (see Using drugs and alcohol to escape from problems).
Now, Michelle’s parents are divorced. She has a better relationship with her father than her mother and he helped looking after her baby and taught her about parental responsibility.
Family conflicts weren’t always the result of teenagers’ abuse of drugs or alcohol. Steph and Leah both grew up in unsettling and tense households. Steph and her siblings were neglected by their mother, who was addicted to heroin, and were placed into care and later adopted. Adoption didn’t work for Steph though. As a teenager she went into supported housing.
Support from parents for drug problems
For some people, their family, and parents in particular, were the biggest source of emotional and practical support. They helped them in their efforts to give up drugs, deal with alcohol addiction or mental health issues. It was mostly parents whom young people turned to when they realised they needed help.
Parents were described by some as patient, supportive and available to talk things through with. Harry appreciates that although his health problems were self-inflicted, his parents stood by him. His mother dealt with his mental health problems directly but his father ‘beat around the bush’ and found it difficult to ask direct questions.
Support from siblings for drug problems
Brothers and sisters could feel neglected by their parents when a sibling with a drug problem was given more time and attention. Chloe said that she used to get all her mother’s attention when she was using drugs, which her little sister may have resented. Her sister started smoking cannabis which she still does. Craig’s siblings reacted differently to his use of cannabis. Craig‘s little brother looked up to him and may have been disappointed but his sister asked to try some, which he refused. Ben and Hugh suggested that having older brothers who didn’t use drugs or smoke cigarettes prevented them from getting heavily involved with either.
People said that sibling relationships improved after they stopped using drugs and also because everyone grew up.

Last reviewed :July 2018.
Last updated: January 2015.


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