Supporting the children of alcoholic parents

Des Mannion
Friday, April 27, 2018

Growing up with an alcoholic parent can have a devastating effect on a child.

There is an increasing body of evidence examining how experiences during childhood have long term effects on our health.

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful experiences occurring through childhood that hurt a child or affect their development. These can include abuse and neglect, but also household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or living with family members who are misusing drugs or alcohol. When a parent is misusing alcohol it can have a marked effect on other family members, including their children who are exposed to the problems which result.

Recent research from Public Health Wales has shown that ACEs like these can significantly increase an individual's risk of developing health-harming behaviours themselves as adults.

Compared with those growing up having experienced no ACEs, people who have experienced four or more ACEs are believed to be four times more likely to become a high risk drinker, 15 times more likely to have committed violence against another person in the last 12 months and 20 times more likely to be imprisoned during their lifetime.

These consequences show why early intervention and support for children living with parents who misuse alcohol is essential.

It is why the NSPCC has wholeheartedly welcomed Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt's announcement that £6m funding will be put in place to support a package of measures designed to help the estimated 200,000 children in England living with alcoholic parents.

These measures, which include rapid access to mental health services and outreach programmes to get parents successfully through addiction treatment, could prove pivotal to saving a generation of children from suffering and continuing this cycle of abuse in future.

Combined with early intervention programmes to reduce the number of children needing to go into care and funding to identify and support children at risk more quickly, it is clear to see that the earlier we tackle these issues the better.

The NSPCC's Helpline has seen that concerns about alcoholic parents and substance misuse issues have risen by 30 per cent over the last year. The helpline saw more than 10,200 contacts about substance misuse in 2016/17. The majority were from members of the public worried that a parent is drinking too much alcohol, which in turn is affecting their ability to provide a safe and supportive environment for their children.

The Parents Under Pressure service teaches parents - many of whom are struggling with their own traumatic childhood experiences - techniques that help them manage their emotions and impulsive and destructive behaviours which in turn allows them to be more emotionally available to their children. This service is currently being carried out in a number of NSPCC centres across England and is set to be rolled out in Wales in the near future too.

It's through services like these, combined with programmes from government like the package of measures outlined by Jeremy Hunt, that we can ensure children who have alcoholic parents have a better childhood and reduce the likelihood of problems in later life.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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