Scientific article
Publication Date
Published by / Citation
Svensson, B., Richert, T., & Johnson, B. (2019). Parents’ experiences of abuse by their adult children with drug problems. Nordic Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

Parents’ Experiences of Abuse by their Adult Children with Drug Problems

Research on abuse linked with substance use has tended to focus on child abuse and intimate partner violence. 

There have been considerably fewer studies on the nature of abuse committed by children against their parents.

In a recent qualitative study, published by researchers from Malmö University, the experience of abuse directed towards parents has been explored.

The researchers interviewed twenty-four mothers and eight fathers about their experiences. 

They categorised abuse into the following:

Verbal abuse: insults and demeaning comments
  • insults tended to be delivered face-to-face, through text or by telephone
  • parents tended to distance themselves from the impact of harsh words by explaining them as drug-induced.
  • Verbal abuse creates a sense of shamewhich threatens relationship bonds. 
Emotional abuse: threats
  • In 18 of the 32 interviews, the parents described the child being threatening 
  • Conflict often occurred when parents attempted to prevent the child's continued drug use
  • Again, the parents viewed the abuse coming from their child's unmet need for help with drug problems rather than their child.
Financial abuse: damage to property and possessions
  • Parents reported such damage in 11 of the 32 interviews. 
  • feelings of intimidation and shame prevent parents from reporting their child to the police
  • in some cases destruction of objects replaced hurting the parents
  • damage typically occurs when the child is craving or withdrawing from drugs
Physical abuse: physical violence
  • Stories of physical violence were rare in the interviews.
  • Physical violence was seen as a boundary that was forbidden to cross and not tolerated

Overall, the interviews highlighted the intimidation, shame, and hopelessness many of the parents feel. The parents often talk about their sober child and their child on drugs as two separate people. One clear coping mechanism used by the parents is to explain the abuse coming from the drugs, not their child.

Authorities and professionals working with this group of people should use the information collected through accounts to inform support and interventions.

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