HIDDEN HARM AND COVID-19: Exploring Impacts and Solutions

Given the likely increase in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), specifically problem parental substance use, during the COVID pandemic, it is vital that mitigation measures are put in place to address issues that have caused young people distress, a paper by Alcohol Action Ireland and Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Drug and Alcohol Task Force recommends.

The Paper, HIDDEN HARM AND COVID-19: Exploring Impacts and Solutions, outlines the need for policy makers and practitioners to be aware of the alcohol and drug use that young people may have witnessed at home during the restrictions.


Growing up in a home with problem parental alcohol use is recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience that can give rise to lifelong implications for physical and mental health. It is estimated that 200,000 children in Ireland are living in homes impacted by alcohol use and a further 400,000 are adult children from such homes.


This experience has only been heightened during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Ireland, alcohol sales data highlights that Ireland’s alcohol users substituted most of their drinking from regulated licenced premises to use in the home. A Central Statistics Office survey found that 27 per cent of those in households with children reporting an increase in alcohol use. Children who live with problem parental alcohol use feel isolated from relatives and peers, so a new layer of COVID related physical isolation has only have heightened this feeling.


The paper recommends:

  • A whole-of-government approach to tackle childhood adversity arising from parental problem substance use with an identifiable senior official appointed with specific responsibility to advise, develop and plan appropriate policies and services.


  • The current ‘Hidden Harm’ framework requires momentum and urgency particularly in information campaigns, training and raising awareness among all professionals.


  • Drug and alcohol taskforces should be assigned dedicated funding to support trauma-informed services to support children and families affected by problem parental substance use.


  • Schools should seek to strengthen collaboration with services working with children and families to support a child who might be at risk of hidden harm. The ‘Operation Encompass’ model, an early intervention that allows police to notify schools of a child‘s family situation involved in a domestic incident.


Commenting on the publication of the Paper, Dr Sheila Gilheany, CEO, Alcohol Action Ireland said:

As we emerge from our national COVID experience there is little doubt that children impacted by problem parental alcohol use will need to be quickly identified and supports established if the adverse experience they have had to endure is not to have a lasting legacy.




Dun Laoghaire Rathdown Drug and Alcohol Task Force and Bray Local Drug and Alcohol Task Force today (18 May) hosted a virtual seminar on HIDDEN HARM AND COVID-19: Exploring Impacts and Solutions and published a paper, prepared by Alcohol Action Ireland – the national independent advocate for reducing alcohol harm, examining the likely increase in adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), specifically problem parental substance use, during the COVID pandemic.


The paper is available here:



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