independent advocate reducing alcohol harm

Parental problem alcohol use and how children cope during their school years.

A national framework required to support children coping with parental problem alcohol

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, today (3rd November) published a paper that considers the issue of parental problem alcohol use and how children, who are exposed to this Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE), cope during their school years. This paper is a collaboration between Alcohol Action Ireland and University College Cork’s School of Applied Psychology.



Parental problem alcohol use is a significant ACE, giving rise to lifelong implications for physical and mental health. As a gateway ACE, it can also lead to other adverse childhood experiences. In Ireland, it is estimated that 200,000 children are living every day in homes impacted by alcohol use and that a further 400,000 are adult children live with that impact through their lives. That’s enough people to fill Croke Park seven times over.

Alcohol Action through its initiative ‘Silent Voices’ has sought to end the silence on the impact of parental alcohol misuse. it aims to ensure the right supports are available to children today coping with parental alcohol misuse – and those adults dealing with the impact of a childhood trauma in later life.

Using an analysis of Silent Voice’s shared voices – stories and interviews with ACOAs (adult children of alcoholics) – this paper makes recommendations for teachers, schools and the wider education system to address.

Schools must become a place that recognises young people’s trauma and teachers and schools must be supported to nurture trauma-informed environments

At a time when more alcohol than ever before is pouring into Irish homes, children and young people need their schools not just to be a place of learning, but to be a place of refuge and support for other issues in their lives.

Commenting on the paper, Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland said:

Growing up in a home with parental problem alcohol use has been recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience for over 20 years. If the problem in the family is not addressed, children can develop unhealthy roles that can carry into adulthood and other relationships, continuing patterns of behaviour that can have negative consequences.

Research tells us that factors that provide support, friendship and opportunities for development build children’s resilience and protect them against some harmful impacts of ACEs such as parental alcohol dependence.

 School in particular can be a safe haven and educators are extremely well placed to identify children experiencing harm from parental problem alcohol use, which impacts their development.

Dr Sharon Lambert, School of Applied Psychology, University College Cork and Advisory Group to the Silent Voices initiative, said:

School-based trauma-aware approaches have been developed in many countries. In contrast, there are no trauma-aware frameworks or resources to support schools in Ireland. 

The provision of training in relation to trauma-aware approaches and adverse children experiences (ACEs) should be implemented at teacher training level, and at all levels of professional development – from teachers to principals to education welfare officers to SNAs and administrative staff.


A summary of the principal recommendations:

The provision of training in relation to trauma-informed approaches and adverse children experiences (ACEs) should be implemented at teacher training level, and at all levels of professional development – from teachers to principals to education welfare officers to SNAs and administrative staff.

Guidance on the issues pertaining to children with ACES in schools, including parental problem alcohol use, should be made available for all educators.

Schools should seek to strengthen collaboration with Tusla and the Gardai to support a child who might be at risk of hidden harm. The UK’s ‘Operation Encompass’ model, an early intervention, must be implemented in Ireland.

Awareness of parental alcohol use during pregnancy must be strengthened across society in order that women have the information and support they require to stop drinking during pregnancy, thus preventing FASD.

Awareness around parental problem alcohol use and its impact on young people and adult children should be raised through information campaigns and training that targets healthcare, social care, early years, child protection, family support, education, and mental health sectors, as well as families and communities.

Investment is required so that front-line services and counsellors are trauma informed

in order to recognise and adequately deal with the issues that stem from adversity in childhood and children and adult children affected by parental problem alcohol use. Innovative evidence-based programmes must become more widely available in communities around the country.




Editor’s Note:

A copy of the paper is available at: