Drug Addiction is a Scourge on the Earth and my Grandchildren are its Victims: the Tough Love and Resilient Growth Exhibited by Grandparents Raising the Children of Drug-Dependent Mothers

  • Myra F. Taylor
  • David Coall
  • Ruth Marquis
  • Rachel Batten


Parental drug-usage is a risk factor for child neglect. Maternal drug-dependency, in particular, has far reaching implications for the mother, her children, and the grandparents who are left to rear the children when the mother’s drug-dependency prohibits her from doing so. Thus, drug-related maternal incapacity to adequately parent her child/ren places a tri-generational burden on society. This study aimed to broaden understanding of this burden. In this regard, forty-nine custodial grandparent interviews were subjected to thematic analysis. Grandparents typically revealed their daughter’s marijuana usage began in early-mid adolescence, progressed to heavy drugs, and led to an early exit from the family home. A teen-aged pregnancy commonly followed. Grandparents when becoming aware of their grandchild/ren’s mother’s continued drug use and repeated instances of child neglect issued the the children’s mother with a ‘go-into-rehab-or-lose-your-custodial-care-of-your-child/ren’ ultimatum. Drug-dependent mothers were often unable to meet this ultimatum and grandparents then transferred their energies into caring for their grandchild/ren. The implications of this grandparent investiture shift are discussed, and future policy considerations are tabled.


Maternal drug-dependency Child neglect Grandparent custodial care Tough love ultimatum Grandparent social isolation Resilient growth 


  1. Anker, J. J., & Carroll, M. E. (2011). Females are more vulnerable to drug abuse than males. In J. C. Neill & J. Kukarni (Eds.), Biological basis of sex differences in psychopharmacology (pp. 73–96). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  2. Antonucci, T., Fiori, K., Birditt, K., & Jackey, L. (2010). Convoys of social relations integrating lifespan and life course perspectives. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  3. Barnard, M., & McKeganey, N. (2004). The impact of parental drug use on children. Addiction, 99, 552–559.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  4. Becker, J. B., & Hu, M. (2008). Sex differences in drug abuse. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 29, 36–47.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  5. Becker, J. B., Perry, A. N., & Westenbroek, C. (2012). Sex differences in the neural mechanisms mediating addiction. Biology of Sex Differences, 3, 1–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Biederman, J., Hirshfeld-Becker, D. R., Rosenbaum, J. F., Perenick, S. G., Wood, J., & Faraone, S. (2001). Lack of association between parental alcohol or drug addiction and behavioural inhibition in children. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 1731–1733.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3, 72–101.Google Scholar
  8. Chambers, A., Taylor, J. R., & Potenza, M. (2003). Developmental neurocircuitry of motivation in adolescence: a critical period of addiction vulnerability. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 160, 1041–1052.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  9. Coall, D., & Hertwig, R. (2010). Grandparent investment: past, present, and future. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 33, 1–59.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  10. Coall, D., Hilbrand, S., & Hertwig, R. (2014). Predictors of grandparental investment decisions in contemporary Europe. Plos One, 9, e84082. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0084082.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  11. Commonwealth of Australia. (2014). Grandparents who take primary responsibility for raising their grandchildren. The Senate Community Affairs Committee Secretariat: Parliament House, Canberra.
  12. Creanga, A., Sabel, J., Ko, J., Wasserman, C., Shapiro-Mendoza, C., Taylor, P., Barfield, W., Cawthon, L., & Paulozzi, L. (2015). Maternal drug use and its effects on neonates. Obstetrics and Gynecology, 119, 924–933.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dunifon, R., Ziol-Guest, K., & Kopko, K. (2014). Grandparent co-residence and family wellbeing. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654, 110–126.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Friguls, B., Joya, X., Garcia‐Serra, J., Gómez‐Culebras, M., Pichini, S., Martinez, S., Vall, O., & Garcia‐Algar, O. (2012). Assessment of exposure to drugs of abuse during pregnancy by hair analysis in a Mediterranean island. Addiction, 107, 1471–1479.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  15. Hayslip, B., Blumenthal, H., & Garner, A. (2014). Social support and grand career health. Journals of Gerontology. Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 70, 804–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Kelly, R., Zatzick, D., & Anders, T. (2001). The detection and treatment of psychiatric disorders and substance use among pregnant women cared for in obstetrics. American Journal of Psychiatry, 158, 213–219.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  17. Kier, C. A., & Fung, T. A. (2014). Adult outcomes of being raised by grandmothers. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 12, 141–166. doi: 10.1080/15350770.2014.901120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kirby, J. N., & Saunders, M. R. (2014). The acceptability of parenting strategies for grandparents providing care to grandchildren. Prevention Science, 15, 777–787. doi: 10.1007/s11121-013-0428-0.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  19. Liamputtong, P., & Ezzy, D. (2005). Qualitative research methods. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Monohan, D. J., Smith, C. J., & Greene, V. L. (2013). Kinship caregivers: health and burden. Journal of Family Social Work, 16, 392–402.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Montoro-Rodriquez, J., Smith, G., & Palmieri, P. (2012). Use of community and school mental health services by custodial grandchildren. Family Relations, 61, 207–223.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Pihkala, H., & Sandlund, M. (2015). Parenthood and opioid dependence. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation, 6, 33–40.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  23. Profe, W., & Wild, L. G. (2015). Mother, father, and grandparent involvement: associations with adolescent mental health and substance use. Journal of Family Issues. doi: 10.1177/0192513X15583069. eFirst, 1–22.Google Scholar
  24. Sheridan, K. (2014). A systematic review of the literature regarding family context and mental health of children from rural methamphetamine-involved families. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 8, 514–538.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Sheridan, K., Haight, W. L., & Cleeland, L. (2011). The role of grandparents in preventing aggressive and other externalizing behavior problems in children from rural, methamphetamine-involved families. Children and Youth Services Review, 33, 1583–1591.CrossRefPubMedPubMedCentralGoogle Scholar
  26. Shi, G., Wu, X., Yi, Y., Yu, M., Tian, Z., & Wu, H. (2015). The mental health and life satisfaction of children of drug abusers in Wenzhou, China. Applied Quality of Life, 10, 525–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Skinner, M. L., Fleming, C. B., Haggerty, K., & Catalano, R. F. (2014). Sex risk behaviour among adolescent and young adult children of opiate addicts. Prevention Science, 15, S70–77.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  28. Slamberova, R. (2012). Drugs in pregnancy: the effects on mother and her progency. Physiological Research, 61, S123.Google Scholar
  29. Straussner, S., & Fewell, C. (2015). Children of parents who abuse alcohol and other drugs. In A. Reupert, D. Mayberry, J. Nicholson, M. Seeman, & M. Gopert (Eds.), Parental psychiatric disorders: distressed parents and families (pp. 138–152). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Taylor, M. F., Pooley, J. A., & Taylor, R. S. (2015). Overcoming domestic violence: creating a dialogue around vulnerable populations. New York: Nova Science.Google Scholar
  31. Taylor, M. F., Marquis, R., Batten, R., & Coall, D. (2016). Understanding the occupational issues faced by custodial grandparents endeavouring to improve scholastic outcomes for their grandchildren. Journal of Occupational Therapy, Schools, and Early Intervention., 8(4), 319–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) (2015). World Drug Report 2015. Download 30 Sept 2015 from:
  33. Wiig, E. M., Haugland, B. S., Halsa, A., & Myhra, S. M. (2014). Substance‐dependent women becoming mothers. Child and Family Social Work. doi: 10.1111/cfs.12190. eFirst, 1–10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Myra F. Taylor
    • 1
  • David Coall
    • 1
  • Ruth Marquis
    • 1
  • Rachel Batten
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Exercise and Health Science and School of Medical SciencesEdith Cowan UniversityJoondalupAustralia

Personalised recommendations