Advocating for an alcohol-free childhood
Alcohol Action Ireland believes that all young people are entitled to an alcohol-free childhood, and that alcohol harm should be recognised as a major public health issue in Ireland, particularly among younger people.
Protecting children from harm is not just a public health issue but a human rights one.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to survive, to be protected from harm and exploitation, to develop fully and to participate in decisions which affect their wellbeing. Article 24 of the UNCRC recognises children’s right to ‘the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health’. Article 24 further provides that State must ‘strive to ensure that no child is deprived of his or her right of access to such healthcare services.’
As per these children’s rights standards, young people must be protected from the impact of alcohol-related harms including issues such as parental alcohol misuse and the availability, marketing and consumption of alcohol.
Growing up in a home with parental alcohol misuse has been recognised internationally as an adverse childhood experience for over 20 years, and the physical and mental consequences of parental alcohol misuse have also been studied.
Studies have found that there is a serious risk that parents with alcohol problems may neglect their children. Such neglect can have a negative impact on children’s emotional and physical development and education, and put them at risk of physical and sexual abuse. A UK survey investigating the problems of adult children of alcoholics found that they were more likely to consider suicide, have eating disorders, drug addiction, and be in trouble with the police, as well as having above average alcohol dependency and mental health problems.
In Ireland, at least 1 in 6 young people suffer the unnecessary impact of alcohol-related harms at home. Therefore it is likely that today more than 200,000 children in Ireland are living with the traumatic circumstances of a childhood where parental alcohol misuse (PAM) is a frequent event.
It is further estimated that there are around 400,000 people in Ireland today who are adult children from alcohol-impacted families. This means that approximately 600,000 people across all age ranges in Ireland may be suffering because of the impact of alcohol harm in their family.
Research shows that adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can greatly increase the likelihood of poor physical and mental health in later life. The hugely negative effects of parental alcohol misuse on children as outlined above makes the case for intervention and preventive with these children, and indeed adult children, real and urgent.
Silent Voices, an initiative of Alcohol Action Ireland, seeks to highlight the harm caused by parental alcohol misuse (PAM) and its impact across the lifespan.
Read more about the Silent Voices campaign here: /campaigns/silent-voices/
Marketing to young people
Alcohol is not just an ordinary consumer product. While it can form part of a balanced social life, alcohol can also lead to a myriad of serious health and social problems.
Alcohol is one of the most heavily marketed products on our shelves with a total market value of approximately €6 billion in Ireland each year. That’s why the role of alcohol marketing in encouraging, normalising and glamourising alcohol consumption among young people cannot be underestimated. The international literature is clear – the greater the level of exposure to, or engagement with, alcohol marketing, the more likely young people are to drink alcohol.
Research commissioned by Alcohol Action Ireland and carried out by the Health Promotion Research Centre in NUI Galway found that Irish children are exposed to large volumes of alcohol marketing, which increases their likelihood of drinking alcohol and engaging in risky drinking behaviour.
Among the findings where that: more than 90% of children reported that they were exposed to traditional, or offline, alcohol advertisements in the week prior to the study and more than half saw four or more alcohol advertisements per day. Meanwhile, 77% of children reported exposure to alcohol marketing online and 61% of children reported that they owned alcohol branded merchandise.
With respect to types of marketing, 72% of the children reported that they had seen advertisements for an alcohol product on social media: 35% were invited to ‘like’ an alcohol brand via social media; 30% were invited to ‘like’ an alcohol sponsored event, and 21% were invited to go to such an event.
Overall, more girls were exposed to most types of social media-related marketing. The study also found that 77% of children were exposed to online marketing, including social media (significantly more girls than boys); 91% were exposed to offline marketing; and 61% reported ownership of alcohol branded merchandise.
Other findings of the report were that almost a third (30%) of the children reported that they intended to drink in the next month; 44% stated that they intended to drink in the next year; and 73% stated that they intended to drink when they are aged 18 or older.
Importantly, the study also found that the intensity of exposure to marketing is a strong predictor of alcohol–related behaviours. Exposure to seven or more advertisements (the highest level of exposure included in this study) increased the risk of drinking threefold; binge drinking more than fourfold; drunkenness fivefold, and the risk of drinking intention fourfold.
These findings clearly indicate that the more intense the exposure, the higher the risk of drinking alcohol and engagement in risky drinking behaviours.
Although the Public Health Alcohol Act does make an attempt to restrict alcohol advertising to young people, if we are serious about protecting young people, the recently enacted measures must be considered as just the first step in restricting alcohol marketing as they do not include areas such as sports sponsorship or internet advertising. There is no place for alcohol marketing in sport.
The advent of digital and social media marketing has created new and important communications channels within the marketing mix. Several alcohol brands have diverted significant marketing spend into the digital sphere. Digital marketing, and in particular social media networks, allow for more effective targeting of consumers, and the interactive nature of this communication makes it arguably more effective than traditional passive advertising methods.
Vulnerable young people
The WHO European Charter on Alcohol states that ‘all children and adolescents have the right to grow up in an environment protected from the negative consequences of alcohol consumption.’
However, children often find themselves in hugely negative and vulnerable situations because of the misuse of alcohol.
Data from the Child Care Law Reporting Project has found that drug and alcohol abuse feature in 1 in 5 cases in child care cases.
Alcohol was identified as a risk factor in three-quarters of Irish teenagers for whom social workers applied for admission to special care – a secure care environment requiring a court order to detain a young person to protect them.
Research from Ireland’s national facility for young offenders, Oberstown, tells us that young people in detention are consistently found to have high levels of mental health need, and high levels of drug and alcohol misuse. Stats from 2019 show that 71% of young people had problems with alcohol and/or drugs.
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.
All of this data tells us that Ireland is falling badly short in its commitments to upholding children’s rights and protecting them from the harmful consequences of alcohol consumption.
To read how alcohol impacts health and wellbeing in young people see here
Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D, et al. (1998). Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study. American Journal Preventative Medicine. 1998; 14: 245-258; Ashton, K., Bellis, M. & Hughes, (2016) Adverse childhood experiences and their association with health-harming behaviours and mental wellbeing in the Welsh adult population: a national cross-sectional survey; Bellis, M. A., Hughes, K., Leckenby, N., Jones, L., Baban, A., Kachaeva, M., Terzic, N. (2014). Adverse childhood experiences and associations with health-harming behaviours in young adults: surveys in eight eastern European countries. Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 92(9), 641–655. doi:10.2471/BLT.13.129247
 Gance-Cleveland, B., Mays, M.Z., Steffen, A. (2008). Association of adolescent physical and emotional health with perceived severity of parental substance abuse. Journal for Specialists in Pediatric Nursing;13(1): 15-25. Winqvist, S., Jokelainen, J., Luukinen, H., Hillbom, M. (2007). Parental alcohol misuse is a powerful predictor for the risk of traumatic brain injury in childhood. Brain Inj.;21(10):1079-85.
 Barnard, M and Barlow, J (2003) ‘Discovering parental drug dependence: Silence and disclosure‘
Children and Society, Volume 17, Issue 1, p45-56; Cleaver, H; Unell, I and Aldgate, J (2011)
Children’s needs, parenting capacity: The impact of parental mental illness, learning disability, problem alcohol and drug use and domestic violence on children’s safety and development (2nd edition)
Department for Education.
 NACAO, Professor Martin Callingham, Survey of children of alcohol-dependent parents.
 Felitti, V.J., Anda, R.F., Nordenberg, D., Williamson, D.F., Spitz, A.M., Edwards, V., & Marks, J.S. (1998). Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 14(4), 245–258. Baumeister R.F., Schmeichel B.J., Vohs K.D. (2013) Self-Regulation and the Executive Function: The Self as Controlling Agent. In Kruglanski A., Higgins E.T. Social Psychology: Handbook of Basic Principles (2nd ed.) New York: Guilford, pp. 516–539.
 Alcohol marketing and young people’s drinking behaviour in Ireland: /wpfb-file/alcmarketingstudy-pdf/
 Measures enacted in November 2019 mean prohibiting alcohol advertising in or on public transport and within 200 metres of schools, or public playground; prohibiting alcohol advertising in cinemas with an 18 classification or in a licensed premises in a cinema; prohibiting alcohol promotion on children’s clothing.
 Mosher, J.F. (2012) ‘Joe Camel in a bottle: Diageo, the Smirnoff brand, and the transformation of the youth alcohol market’, American Journal of Public Health, 102(1): 56-63. 3. Jernigan, D.H. and Rushman, A.E. (2014). ‘Measuring youth exposure to alcohol marketing on social networking sites: Challenges and prospects’, Journal of Public Health Policy, 35(1): 91-104.
 Lin, E.Y., Caswell, S., You, R.Q. and Juckle, T. (2012) ‘Engagement with alcohol marketing and early brand allegiance in relation to early years of drinking’, Addiction Research and Theory, 20(4): 329-38