Policy and practice briefingsAdult family members of people with drug problems


There are different ways in which families of people who use drugs may be affected and may affect the drug use of their family member. Some are positive and some are negative. This section focuses on the problems experienced by adult family members of people who have drug problems and the potential role of families in supporting treatment engagement.

Families of people who use drugs can experience a wide range of harms: worry and psychological distress leading to physical and mental ill-health; harm from domestic violence; exposure to threats and violence associated with the drug debts and the involvement of the drug-using family member in the illicit market; the financial burden of directly and indirectly supporting a drug user; impact on employment from stress or caring responsibilities; strain on family relationships; and loss of social life and isolation.

Family members can make a positive contribution by supporting the family member who uses drugs and encouraging them to engage with treatment.

Response options

  • Dedicated family support services providing help and support to family members in their own right.
  • Support for kinship carers (family members who take on parental responsibilities for the children of a drug-using relative).
  • Provision of appropriate health care by medical practitioners in primary care, including evidence-based interventions, such as the five-step programme.
  • Proper assessment of family relationships at the point when a drug user enters a treatment programme and the provision of support to family members in order to enhance their contribution to successful outcomes.
  • Where appropriate, more intensive and specialist interventions, such as intensive family-based therapy, behavioural couples therapy, multidimensional family therapy and social network approaches.
  • Bereavement support.

European picture

  • There is no comparable information on the availability of programmes to support adult family members of people with drug problems in Europe or on the provision of family-based therapies.
  • Peer-led family support and advocacy organisations are reported in a number of countries.

Summary of the available evidence

No available evidence

Currently no evidence has been found that meets our criteria for inclusion.

Implications for policy and practice


  • Adult family members of people who use drugs may experience a wide range of harms and need support services to help them address these. These include primary health care to address the anxiety and stress they experience, peer support, bereavement care and support for kin carers.
  • The needs and potential contribution of family members to the effectiveness of drug treatment should be recognised within drug policy and practice guidelines.


  • Involvement of adult family members of people with drug problems in policy and practice development as well as in the provision of peer support has the potential to improve provision of service generally, as well as specifically for family members.


  • Information on the extent and nature of provision of interventions for this group is currently limited, and research and monitoring in this area needs to be improved.