Parental alcohol misuse ‘more damaging than drugs', warns children's commissioner

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 11 September 2012

Parental alcohol misuse damages more children's lives than illegal drug use, a report by the children's commissioner has warned.

One third of children in the UK live with at least one parent who is a binge drinker, according to the report. Image: Jim Varney/posed by models

Research cited in the report, based on more than 150 sources of literature, found that one in three children in the UK live with at least one parent who is a binge drinker.

One fifth – or more than 2.5 million children – live with a "hazardous" drinker, and around 79,000 babies under one year old is parented by someone classified as a "harmful" drinker, putting their safety and health and wellbeing at risk.

Silent Voices – Supporting Children and Young People Affected by Parental Alcohol Misuse, found that the children and young people of parents affected by drinking want society to take a more serious attitude towards alcohol.

Interviews with four focus groups of eight- to 20-year-olds involved with parental alcohol misuse support groups, revealed that young people would like to see a more targeted approach to alcohol misuse from government and local authorities, akin to that used to reduce smoking and illegal drug use.

Maggie Atkinson, children’s commissioner for England, said: “We’re asking that the same amount of seriousness is applied to alcohol as it applied to other substances that can seriously damage your health, and leave your children not as parented as they ought to be.

“We seem as a society to have accepted we have to do something serious about other things that damage your health and lead to hospitalisation, such as smoking. Somehow we are less comfortable with taking the same very strong approach to alcohol.”

Atkinson added that the report's publication was timely because a new ministerial team for children and young people has just been appointed, and there is an increasing focus on the public health agenda, with the NHS reforms and the creation of Public Health England.

In August this year, statistics from an analysis of Scottish Health Surveys revealed that as many as 10.4 per cent of young people under the age of 16 in Scotland are vulnerable to emotional, physical and verbal abuse because of their parents’ “problematic use” of alcohol.

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