Drug abuse and problems arising from it are increasing all over the world. Most of the research concerning substance abuse has focused on three dimensions: sociocultural influences, personal characteristics, and interpersonal factors. The aim of this descriptive study was to describe family characteristics of drug-related deaths examined at the Viennese Institute of Forensic Medicine in 1993. Furthermore, it was of interest to analyze the onset of substance use as well as traumatic life events during childhood. For this purpose, relatives or partners for life of drug-related deaths, examined from 1 Jan. to 30 June 1993 at the Institute of Forensic Medicine in Vienna, were interviewed using a semistructured technique. Eighty percent of drug users were reported to have experienced a traumatic event during their childhood. In the majority, this was the parents' divorce or the death of a parent. Male drug users were significantly younger at time of this event than females. The first signs of smoking and alcohol drinking of examined drug users, as recognized by the interviewees, occurred at the age of about 15. Those who experienced a traumatic event during their childhood started to smoke at a significantly lower age. In ¾ of investigated cases, parents also were smokers, and more than one third of families had a problem drinker, mostly the father. In 16% of drug users, a mental disturbance concerning the mother was reported, and in 14%, prescribed psychoactive drugs were regularly used. Physical violence, generally by the father, was a common phenomenon in 20% of investigated families. About 45% of the victims were from families having more than one of these factors present.