“Depends on the Father”: Defining Problematic Paternal Substance Use During Pregnancy and Early Parenthood

Keywords: Substance Use, Determinants of Health, Masculinity, Fathers/Fathering, High Risk Families


The re-invention of fathers as sensitive, involved “new men” is a social phenomenon that has largely excluded marginalized and low-income fathers. Especially where perinatal substance use is concerned, moralized mother-centric discourse still easily eclipses attention to fathers’ roles. In this exploratory study, we analysed interviews with low-income new and expectant parents (26 mothers and 8 fathers) in Victoria, B.C. who self-identified as being impacted by drugs or alcohol. Using thematic analysis, we found fatherhood ideals framed how both paternal substance use and father absence were problematized. Paternal substance use was seen as problematic when it impacted the health of children indirectly by compromising maternal support, directly by increasing probability or severity of domestic violence, or by otherwise undermining the ability of a father to fulfill his role as he understands it. Parents espoused targeted perinatal services for fathers to break the intergenerational cycle of addiction and disadvantage.

Author Biographies

Samantha Magnus, University of Victoria
Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Research Associate
Cecilia Benoit, University of Victoria
Department of Socoiology, Professor Centre for Addictions Research of BC, Scientist