Affected family members' experience of, and coping with, aggression and violence within the context of problematic substance use: A qualitative study

Terence V McCann, Dan I. Lubman, Gayelene Boardman, Mollie Flood

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12 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Families have an important role supporting a family member with problematic substance use (PSU), although this can often be challenging and confronting. Previous research has identified high rates of family aggression and violence within the context of PSU, although few studies have examined this issue from the perspective of affected family members (AFMs) supporting a member with PSU. The aims of the current study were to understand AFMs' experience of aggression and violence while supporting a member with PSU, and to explicate the strategies they used to prevent and cope with this behaviour. Methods: Semi-structured, audio-recorded qualitative interviews were conducted with 31 AFMs from the state of Victoria in Australia. Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis was used to guide data collection and analysis. Results: Almost 70% of participants experienced PSU-related family aggression and/or violence. Two main themes and related sub-themes were abstracted from the data capturing their experiences of this behaviour and the strategies they used to try to prevent and cope in this situation. Aggression and/or violence were variable, changeable and unpredictable; and aggression and/or violence altering social interactions and family dynamics. As a consequence, it was upsetting, stressful and emotionally exhausting to AFMs. In response to this experience, and largely through trial and error, they used several direct strategies to try to prevent and cope with the behaviour; however, most continued to struggle in these circumstances. They also highlighted additional indirect measures, which, if adopted, would enhance their existing direct strategies. Conclusions: More effective primary, secondary and tertiary preventive measures are needed to address family aggression and violence within the context of PSU. More support is needed for family members affected by PSU to enable them to 'stand up to,' to prevent and cope effectively with this behaviour, and to increase their help-seeking and access to specialist services and support groups. More appropriate policies and social services are needed to meet the needs of AFMs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number209
Number of pages11
JournalBMC Psychiatry
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jun 2017


  • Affected family members
  • Aggression
  • Coping
  • Families
  • Problematic substance use
  • Qualitative research
  • Violence

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