One in 11 children impacted negatively by parental alcohol problems — one in every six cases of child abuse attributed to alcohol: new government has opportunity to make the difference

Children of Alcoholics Week (13 February – 19 February)

Alcohol Action Ireland, the national charity for alcohol-related issues, is urging the next government to adopt a five point action to aid the estimated one in 11 children negatively affected by parental alcohol problems in Ireland.

Alcohol Action Ireland Director Fiona Ryan said: “Parental alcohol problems can and do have a serious impact on a child’s welfare and safety – with one in every six cases of child abuse in Ireland attributed to alcohol.   As a  society, we  deny or ignore the impact of parental alcohol problems on children, yet these children are often leading lives of quiet desperation, unseen and unheard.

“They get our attention only when the most extreme cases come to light and we prefer to think of these as isolated incidents.

“The reality is that currently one in 11 children tell us that their parents’ drinking has a negative impact on their lives. When adults were asked about parental alcohol use during their childhood, one in 14 said they frequently felt afraid or unsafe as children, with one in 12 reporting witnessing alcohol-related parental conflict.

“What makes these figures even more poignant is that we know they are liable to be an under-estimation due to the high levels of shame, secrecy and denial that exists in families affected by parental alcohol problems. Take the normal morning routine which thousands of schoolkids go through getting up, having breakfast, getting dressed and going off to school with a lunch.

“In a family where alcohol is a problem, some or none of this might have happened – no breakfast, no clean clothes, maybe no Mam or Dad   to help or alternatively the child might have to be the Mam or Dad, getting breakfast, getting younger siblings ready.”

Ms Ryan said the next government has a unique opportunity to demonstrate its commitment to the welfare and protection  of all children but especially the most vulnerable, including children affected by parental alcohol problems. She urged them to consider the following five steps:

Five Steps

  • Carry out an examination of prevalence to determine the extent of the problem across the population
  • Resource and train staff interacting with children in a professional capacity, on the impact of parental substance misuse on children and families
  • Identify supports and services that can be delivered to children in their own right – parents with alcohol problems may be reluctant to avail of support or help; children should have the right to access this help or support in order to reduce the impact of parental alcohol problems on their lives. Services could include helplines, in-school counselling, therapeutic support and emergency accommodation
  • Introduce a minimum price for alcohol – a floor price below which alcohol cannot be sold
  • Curb availability and accessibility and regulate the promotion of alcohol – alcohol is a controlled substance but it is sold like an ordinary grocery and is now part of the family shopping basket

Ms Ryan said:   “We have had generations of children affected by parental alcohol problems. Today we have an unprecedented opportunity to make a difference to children’s lives today and to a new generation of children.

“The next Government needs to undertake a serious examination of the extent and impact of parental alcohol problems on children and introduce a mixture of targeted initiatives and population-wide approaches which have been proven to reduce overall levels of alcohol consumption.”


Notes to the Editor:

  • Alcohol Action Ireland’s Keeping it in the Family Survey 2009 (carried out by Behaviour and Attitudes) was the first ever national research survey carried out among adults to gauge their experiences of parental alcohol use during their childhood. The survey found that:
  1. The equivalent of 71,000 Irish adults said they often felt afraid or unsafe during their childhood as a result of parental drinking. The same number said they frequently had to look after younger siblings as a result of parental drinking
  2. One in 12 adults said they had often witnessed drink-related parental conflict
  3. There was no social class difference between the numbers experiencing impact of parental alcohol problems
  • According to the recent ISPCC National Children’s Consultation Survey of almost 10,000 children, one in 11 children said their parents’ alcohol use has a negative impact on their lives. This amounts to more than 100,000 children.

Children provided insights into living with a parent with an alcohol problem:

“He roars at me and calls me a scumbag and other bad words that hurt my feelings.”
“It puts you off your work in school as you’re thinking about it in school.”
“I don’t get to go anywhere or have fun the next day because I’m minding my brothers.”

  • Chief Medical Officer of Ireland, Dr Tony Holohan: One in every six cases of child abuse in Ireland is attributed to alcohol.
  • Approximately 9 million children in the European Union are affected by their parents’ drinking problems[i] . These children suffer from neglect, feelings of shame and self-blaming for their parents’ addiction and from continuous conflicts at home. Many children and young people have to witness and suffer violence[ii] .
  • It is estimated that in Europe, alcohol is a causal factor in 16% of child abuse and neglect cases[iii] .
  • The Government was given an ‘F’ grade, a fail, in the Children Rights Alliance’s recent Report Card 2011 – Has the Government Kept it Promises to Children? in the area of alcohol.

[i] Anderson, P. and   Baumberg, B., 2006. Alcohol in Europe. London: Institute of Alcohol Studies.
[ii] as in i
[iii] as in i

For further information or comment contact:
Alcohol Action Ireland Communications Officer Cathy Gray (01) 878 0610/ 087 995 0186