Family histories of abuse and neglect are common among persons with substance addictions. Clearly such family backgrounds impact on future lifestyle choices. How this early life experience then impacts on the substance user as a parent and on their children has not been considered in the literature in any detail. Clients of local community drug services were invited to participate in a study evaluating the family life of parents who were dependent on illicit substances. Fifteen parents participated in a qualitative, longitudinal study about their family life, treatment and drug of choice. Four aspects of parental perception of family life were examined: the perceived impact of the family of origin on the parent drug user, self-perception, the impact of parental illicit drug use on the family environment, the impact of parental illicit drug use on children. For parents struggling with a substance addiction, it would seem that recovery has much to do with differentiation and gaining a sense of agency.