Abstract Community based nurses have increasingly been involved in caring for the parents of drug abusing adolescents. They are in need of research data about how parents are coping with the problem. This study analyzed parental role formulation in response to their position as parents of deviant children. The method of inquiry was ethnographic. Data were gathered from nonparticipant observations, parent informant journals, and interviews with parents involved in a survival group. Parents move through three phases of role formation, the content of which has implications for nursing assessments. The similarities of these parents to those of physically and mentally handicapped children is striking. Both are outside the conventional norm and are constantly involved in interpreting situations with others as to their different parenting role. A peculiarity in the findings is that the parents were less discredited by their family and friends than had been anticipated. They met their greatest discreditation from community institutions, including the school, police, and court systems, institutions that were expected to assist them in bringing their child's drug abuse under control.