MEDIA RELEASE: Almost 1 Million People In Ireland Grew Up With A Problem Drinker In The Home

24 Oct 2023

Research has found that 25% of adults in Ireland – almost 1 million people – experienced living with a problem drinker as a child, an event hosted by Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI) heard today (Tuesday Oct 24). 

The Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) comparison study carried out by Maynooth University also found ‘significant association’ between post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and having a problem drinker in household, once again highlighting the impact of this ACE on mental health. 

The paper notes the high level of alcohol use in the whole of population in Ireland as a likely contributor to this ACE in particular. 

Alcohol Action Ireland, through its Silent Voices initiative, is hosting a series of events this week to highlight the impact of this often hidden adverse childhood experience (ACE) on young people, which can last into adulthood. 

Dr Sheila Gilheany CEO of AAI, said: “As a society we are in denial about the harm alcohol causes to children. It is imperative that we start to take this issue more seriously and to realise the impact that problem alcohol use in the home is having on invisible victims of alcohol harm – children. Often when a child has mental health needs they are manifesting some trauma in the family.

“In our new policy document launched today, Problem alcohol use in the home, the invisible victims of alcohol harm, we are calling on government to ensure that professionals including GPs,social workers, teachers, psychologists, psychiatrists and other mental health workers must be trained in how to recognise the traits of this ACE and its impacts across the lifespan. We have a national strategy around this issue and training is available from the HSE, it just requires joined up thinking and urgency in order to prevent more children from struggling with this across their lifespan.  Not taking preventative action has huge costs for individuals and societies. Research has found that it costs Ireland €7billion annually to deal with the consequences people live with from ACEs.” 

She continued: “It’s important to say that this is not about blaming parents. Irish society is saturated with alcohol marketing that sells a powerful myth that alcohol doesn’t have any downsides. Parents are dealing with their own stresses and traumas and a lack of trauma-informed services to help people with mental health needs and substance use issues that are so common these days, leads people to use alcohol more and more.” 

Research presented today by Professor of Social Work & Social Policy at TCD, Trevor Spratt, will highlight the role of ‘one good adult’, which can make a significant difference to the lives of these children -in particular adults associated with formal services such as teachers, youth workers as well as trusted extended family and community members. 

Ombudsman for Children Niall Muldoon, who is chairing today’s opening event, said: 

“Research shows that children growing up with problem alcohol use in the home are more likely to experience mental health problems, to have poor school attendance, behavioural problems, as well as substance use problems and eating disorders.  These are stark findings that we’ve known about for some time. Yet often, we do not join the dots between young people’s issues and their lived experiences. We must do better as a state in understanding children’s behaviours in terms of what is going on in their lives. This goes beyond the small number of children who come to the attention of Tusla, CAMHS or the Gardaí and as a nation we need to acknowledge the need for our communities, schools and clubs to understand the possible traumas in children’s lives and ensure they are listened to and supported in the contexts they live in.” 


Ailbhe Smyth, patron of Alcohol Action’s Silent Voices initiative and who grew up with this issue said: “Families are deeply disrupted when someone is dependent on alcohol or other substances. The trauma that permeates throughout the family can cause family members  – and children to have their own mental health needs.  Often times there can be other compounding issues such as domestic abuse which can further trap people in addiction and trauma. We need to find ways to ensure that services responding to people are able to deal with the holistic and co-occurring needs that arise and we need far more supports for children and families in order to break intergenerational trauma cycles.” 

A good example of such joined up thinking is the programme, Operation Encompass which, if implemented, would allow for schools to be informed if Gardai have attended the family home and hence provide some immediate support in school to traumatised children. This early intervention initiative would help put children on the radar of at least one good adult.  


  1. For media queries, contact Conor Keane at +353 87 995 0186 or email:
  2. End the Silence events
  • Joining the dots – webinar 24 October
  • Triple trauma in the home – Buswells Hotel 25 October
  • Invisible victims – webinar 26 October

Full details here:

  1. Alcohol Action Ireland policy briefing – Problem alcohol use in the home, the invisible victims of alcohol harm
  2. Operation Encompass. Silent Voices and Alcohol Action Ireland have been advocating for Operation Encompasssince 2020. Operation Encompass is supported by organisations such as the Children’s Rights Alliance, ISPCC, INTO, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, Chair of the Irish Association of Social Workers, Vivian Guerin, the former Special Rapporteur on Child Protection Conor O’Mahony, and many others, in relation to the need for this early intervention. Currently under consideration by the Dept of Justice as part of the Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence.


Free toolkit of resources – AAI_toolkit_Interactive_.pdf (