The burden of alcohol harm is often experienced by those around the drinker, such as a family member, friend, co-worker or innocent bystander. Alcohol’s harm to others undermines public safety and is experienced in every community, ranging from the nuisance factor, feeling unsafe in public places, drink-driving, to a violent attack by an intoxicated drinker.
Although not often visible in public, alcohol’s harm to others within the family can have very serious consequences for the safety and well-being of family members, with children the most vulnerable.
- A National Audit of Neglect Cases indicated that parental alcohol misuse was a factor in 62% of neglect cases.
- Alcohol in the home was named as a key child welfare issue in the Report of the Independent Child Death Review Group as it was an issue in one third of the cases of unnatural deaths reviewed. It was the second most prevalent issue after neglect and twice as prevalent as drugs in the home.
An examination based on HSE child welfare national reports, showed that one in seven child welfare cases were due to parental drug/alcohol abuse. However, this figure was a significant underestimation, given that only one reason for child welfare was recorded. When an in-depthanalysis was conducted, confined to one county, one in three child abuse cases was found to involve parental alcohol abuse.
- The Steering Group Report on a National Substance Misuse Strategy states that alcohol was identified as a risk factor in three-quarters of Irish teenagers for whom social care workers applied for admission to special care.
Alcohol’s Harm to Others in Ireland, a report for the Health Service Executive (HSE) by Dr Ann Hope, found that one in ten Irish parents/guardians reported that children experienced at least one or more of the following 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.
Parents who themselves were regular risky drinkers were more likely to report (one in eight) that children experienced at least one or more of the harms due to others drinking. Therefore, the exposure of children to risk and harm from adults drinking may come from two sources; the ’other drinker’ and the heavy drinking parent. Dr Hope stated that “if both are in the same household then the harm experienced by the child could be substantial”.
The report further states 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 and regulate the affordability, availability and marketing of alcohol to break the negative cycle of harmful drinking among adults in order to provide protection for children from harm”.
The voice of Irish children was heard when the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (ISPCC) National Children Consultation surveyed almost 10,000 children aged 12 to 18-years-old on the effects of parental alcohol use on their lives.
The findings showed that one in eleven young people said that parental alcohol use affected them in a negative way. The negative effects included emotional impacts, abuse and violence, family relations, changes in parental behaviour and neglect.
Many of those children briefly described the impact of their parent’s drinking on their lives, providing us with a glimpse into the effects of this drinking on their day-to-day lives:
“It worries me; I can’t get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum”“
“When they get drunk, they don’t know what they are doing. It’s embarrassing. I hate it”
“Roars at me and calls me scumbag and other bad words which hurt my feelings”
“You feel invisible”
“My dad is an alcoholic and broke up my family”
“They just chose alcohol over children”
“They become a different person and have no control over what they do”
“I have to mind my sister while my mother looks for my father in the pub”
“If they’re getting loaded, why can’t I?”
A survey of adults published in 2011 found that one in ten Irish adults reported that children, for whom they had parental responsibility, experienced at least one or more of the harms listed below as a result of some-one else’s drinking:
- Children were left in unsupervised or unsafe situations.
- Children had been yelled at, criticised or otherwise verbally abused.
- Children have been physically hurt.
- Children had witnessed serious violence in the home.
Alcohol Action Ireland commissioned Behaviour and Attitudes, a leading market research firm, to carry out the first ever prevalence survey on childhood experiences of parental alcohol problems, Keeping it in the Family.
The nationally representative survey of 18-to40-year-olds found that when parents drank, weekly or more often:
- 14% said they often felt afraid or unsafe as a result of their parents’ drinking.
- 14% said they often witnessed conflict between their parents either when they were drinking or as a result of their drinking.
- 11% said they often had to take responsibility for a parent or a sibling.
- The impact of parental drinking did not differ according to socio-economic class.
To find out more about this issue see our Silent Voices campaign, which aims to end the silence on the impact of parental alcohol misuse in our campaign section.