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Families Under Pressure

How Many?

The Government estimates that between 780,000 and 1.3million children live in homes where parental drinking is causing problems (March 2004). The 2001 census showed that there are 11.7million dependent children in England and Wales. However we look at the statistics, this means that there could be over 10% of children who are suffering because of parental drinking – an average of three children in every primary school class. Alcohol Concern estimate that there are over 6% of adults who grew up in a family where one or both parents drank excessively. They report that NSPCC help-line calls showed parental alcohol misuse to be a factor in 23% of child neglect cases, 13% of calls about emotional abuse, 10% of calls about physical abuse and 5% of calls about sexual abuse. Heavy drinking by parents was identified as a factor in over 50% of child protection case conferences.

Alcohol Concern go on to say that children of problem drinkers have higher levels of behavioural difficulties, school-related problems and emotional disturbance than children of non-problem drinking parents.

It goes on. Alcohol Concern further report that research has found that 60-70% of men who assault their partners do so when under the influence of alcohol.

Other Risks Include

  • Health hazards, like lack of food, clothing, carelessness or accidents.
  • Lack of parental supervision ­ forgetfulness, or even unconsciousness.
  • Children copying their parents’ behaviour.
  • Isolation of the family from neighbours and support services.
  • Marriages where there is a drinking problem are twice as likely to end in divorce as those where there is not.

The 2004 Government Alcohol Strategy estimates the cost of the human and emotional impact of alcohol problems to be £4.7billion per year.

So What Comes First?

Does drinking cause problems or are the problems that are already there simply made worse by drinking? In reality, this is a chicken and egg question because of the way that alcohol acts on the human brain. (Link to body and brain section) Alcohol relaxes the brain and dulls conscience, self-criticism and self-control. It can help fuel an argument and make it easier for violence or other abuse to take place. On the other hand, people who are not prone to bad behaviour will still have their ability to control themselves lessened once they’ve started drinking. Even with small amounts there is a reduction of control, conscience and self-criticism. Have you noticed how people think they’re funny when they’ve been drinking yet sometimes no one else is laughing. This is all part of the way in which alcohol affects the brain, enabling individuals to act in ways they would never do when sober.

The solution? Alcohol is only one factor in family life, but if 10% of children are being affected by its consumption, then it affects us all. If you are a parent, would you want your child to visit a home where there might be even mild versions of the problems described above? If you are one of the large number of people who regret what you have done when you’ve been drinking, have you asked for advice or sought help (go to the advice page link)? Children and young people deserve the best start in life. What do you think?

Information Sources

National Census (published May 2003)

HM Government Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England (March 2004)

Alcohol Concern Fact Sheet

NSPCC data

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