Shattered dreams: Parental experiences of adolescent substance abuse


  • Kim Usher, DNE, DHS, BA, MNursS, PhD, RN, RPN, RMRN.

  • Debra Jackson, DipNsg, BHScNsg, MN(Ed), PhD, RN, CommNsgCert.

  • Louise O'Brien, BA, PhD, RPN, RGN.

Kim Usher, School of Nursing Sciences, James Cook University, Townsville, Qld 4811, Australia. Email:


ABSTRACT:  Drug or substance abuse by adolescents continues to have a major impact on the health and well-being of young people and poses a serious management problem for health workers. While the majority of the problems surrounding adolescent substance abuse rest on the parents, little is actually known about their experiences. This study aimed to describe and construct an interpretation of the lived experiences of parenting an adolescent who abuses illicit substances. A qualitative approach, underpinned by the tenets of phenomenology, was used to conduct in-depth interviews with 18 parents. Thematic analysis revealed eight themes: confronting the lies, deceit, and suspicion; struggling to set limits; dealing with the consequences; living with the blame and the shame; trying to keep the child safe; grieving the child that was; living with the guilt; and choosing self-preservation. The results indicate that parents struggle to manage the problem, are left to deal with the consequences of the behaviour with little support, and are constantly looking for answers to the questions raised by the problem.