advocating to reduce alcohol harm

Research backdrop

In 2009, Alcohol Action Ireland conducted the first ever prevalence survey ‘Keeping it in the family’ which identified and highlighted childhood experiences of parental alcohol problems, when parents drank, weekly or more often. It reported that 14% of these children felt afraid or unsafe; 14% often witnessed conflict between parents, while 11% said they often had to take responsibility for a sibling, because of parents’ drinking.

In 2010, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) augmented that work with a survey: If they’re getting loaded, why can’t I? that consulted with just under 10,000, 12 – 18 years old in Ireland, the focus of which was attitudes towards alcohol use. That report showed that 1 in 10 Irish children feel that their life was significantly affected by their parent’s alcohol use. In their own words, Irish children relayed the stark reality of alcohol mis-use in the home.

In 2011, the National Advisory Committee on Drugs (NACD) published a Literature Review Report ‘Parental Substance Misuse: Addressing its Impact on Children’. This report drew from the substantial body of literature on the effects of parental substance misuse on children. Its publication was supported by a national conference, jointly hosted by the NACD, HSE and Alcohol Action Ireland, in October, 2011, and its proceedings were published in report ‘A Family Affair Supporting children living with parental substance misuse.’

In 2014, working with data from 2006 and 2010, Dr Ann Hope (Trinity College, Dublin: Alcohol’s harm to others in Ireland, outlined that one in ten Irish parents/guardians reported that children experienced at least one or more harms in the past 12 months as a result of someone else’s drinking – verbal abuse, left in unsafe situations, witness to serious violence in the home and physical abuse.

Furthermore, the report stated that “while the severe child abuse cases tend to come to the attention of the health and social services, there is a larger pool of families with less noticeable risky drinking behaviour and problems. In Ireland, given that an estimated 271,000 children under 15 years of age are living with parents who are regular risky drinkers, there is an urgent need to implement effective alcohol policy measures… to provide protection for children from harm”.

In 2015, Hope et al, expanded this work to conduct a national dedicated Alcohol Harm to Others population survey that involved the probability sampling of the Irish adult population aged 18 and over. The results and analysis of this work was published in 2018, The Untold Story: harms experienced in the Irish population due to others’ drinking. (HSE). It revealed that one in six carers (16%) reported that children for whom they had parental responsibility were negatively affected and experienced specific harms because of someone else’s drinking including verbal abuse, witnessing serious violence, insufficient money for their needs and Child Protection services being engaged.