Hidden Harm – the need to focus on children’s needs.

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Last week (May 18th, 2021) in partnership with Dún Laoghaire Rathdown Drugs and Alcohol Task Force, Alcohol Action Ireland presented a policy paper to more than 100 people on the issue of problem parental substance use. The idea of the event and paper was to raise awareness about problem alcohol use in the home, an issue that has worsened over the past year and half with COVID lockdowns. 

We believe highlighting this is important for a number of reasons: children in these situations are often not known to services, or if they are known, the root cause of their problem may not be identified. Another reason is the large numbers affected: it is estimated that up to 1 in 6 children could be affected. Furthermore, the evidence shows that parents don’t have to be dependent on substances to have a significant impact on the physical, psychological and social health of their child. 

Research indicates that children are aware of their parent’s drinking from an early age, including episodes of heavy drinking. Non-dependent parental drinking is associated with earlier alcohol use, drunkenness, adolescent alcohol use, and alcohol-related hospitalisation later in life.1 

National policy, The Hidden Harm strategy, makes it clear that children and young people affected by parental substance use must be supported in their own right so that better outcomes are achieved by them and their families. Given this commitment, we would like to see a public facing action plan that all stakeholders can see and work towards. We also need a campaign about substance use in the home and effects on children to raise awareness on population-wide level. This is not just a child protection issue – if left unchecked it might become one, but early intervention is key so that children and families can thrive and avoid long lasting effects. 


Our paper makes these recommendations, and others, but what was also hugely valuable from the webinar event was the insight gained from the knowledge in the room – the people on the ground working with children and families and people in addiction every day. 

We asked a number of questions and a selection of answers we got back are illustrated below. A few main points came through: that problem substance use is seen in all services, whether it’s the young withdrawn child, the teenager acting out, or the adult still living with the trauma of childhood.  

When we asked people on the ground what they say as solutions, again there were a few main themes: funding, training, awareness and tangible actions that everyone can work towards. The infographics displayed here given a sense of feedback garnered on the day. We will continue to advocate for these voices to be heard and for change to be implemented so that children can enjoy a childhood free from alcohol harm.