Children of alcoholics are ‘suffering in silence’ because of a scandalous lack of support, a ground-breaking report reveals today. The study found not a single council in England offers specific help for the estimated 2.5million children being brought up by heavy drinking parents. MPs said the findings were a ‘national scandal’ and demanded a national action plan to help the “innocent victims” of booze.
The report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Children of Alcoholics found no local authority in England had a set strategy for helping kids of alcoholics. And a third of councils are actually cutting support for drug and alcohol addiction programmes.
An estimated 2.5 million children – one in five – live with a hazardous drinker (someone at risk of harm because of their consumption) and 705,000 live with a dependent drinker (someone who has no control of their alcohol intake).
There were 1 million hospital admissions last year due to alcohol-related disorders, costing the NHS £3.5billion. Children of alcoholics are three times more likely to consider suicide and five times more likely to develop eating disorders. A Freedom of Information request answered by 138 of 150 town halls in England found 70% have seen an increase in alcohol-related hospital admissions.
But more than one in three councils are planning to cut budgets for addiction support. Only three councils in the country – Kirklees, Stoke-on-Trent and Stockport – are increasing the amount the spend on drug and alcohol support. The Information request also found that some local authorities are only referring 0.4% of those who need help to treatment.
The All-Party Group is launching a campaign today called Break The Silence to Break The Cycle and is being backed by MPs and peers from all political parties. They are calling for local authorities and health services to identify children of alcoholics and offer them support. The MPs also want an information blitz aimed at heavy drinking parents to warn them of the damage they could be doing to their children and greater investment in services to help alcoholic mums and dads.
The chair of the All-Party group Liam Byrne MP, who recently revealed the anguish and difficulty of having alcoholic dad, said children of problem drinkers should not be left to suffer alone. He said: “Millions of children of problem drinkers are suffering in silence and today this ground-breaking report reveals why.
“Not a single part of the country actually has a plan in place to help them. They are Britain’s innocent victims of booze and they’re being left to suffer alone. “No wonder so many go on to become alcoholics themselves, develop eating disorders, depression – or even try to kill themselves.
“This is quite simply a national scandal and things have got to change. That’s why today, MPs and peers from all parties are joining together to launch a new national campaign on behalf of Britain’s 2.5 million children of alcoholics and problem drinkers. It’s within our power to change things for the better – so let’s get on with it.
“We’re calling for some simple, big steps that would mean we connect every child of a problem drinker with the help that would make a difference. “We want every part of Britain to have a plan in place and we want more investment in crucial helplines like the helpline run by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics – 0800 358 3456.
“Crucially, we’re calling for a public information campaign aimed at parents so they know the damage they’re doing their kids, and we want every council to publish details of their treatment budgets so we know everyone is spending what’s needed.”
Labour MP Caroline Flint: My agony growing up with alcoholic;My mum, Wendy, made me who I am.
Born to a 17-year-old lone parent in 1961, it showed strength to keep me. I watched this kind and beautiful woman die at 45 from alcoholism. For years, I felt guilty that, maybe, keeping me ruined her life. Mum married and my sister and brother came along. Life wasn’t easy. We never owned a home but I was happy.
In my teens, alcohol took over as her marriage and another relationship failed. Lacking self-esteem, drink ruined her. Twice I lived away from home. First when mum took my sister and brother to live with our grandparents in Lancashire. I lodged with mum’s friend during O Levels. Later, back together in London, her drinking made me leave. With a charity grant I rented a room to finish A levels. After that university was an escape.
I volunteered on Nightline, a student helpline. My sister knew when to ring to keep me in touch with home. I could love and hate mum all in one day. I’d go to school not knowing what I’d come home to, frightened of people finding out. She worked most of her life. People loved her. But, I’d know she was drunk, even if others couldn’t tell.
When alcohol took hold, Wendy could turn nasty. A different person. I’d get angry, emptying bottles down the sink. Sometimes, it was easier to just let her drink and pass out on the sofa. Mum went to AA, took medicine to block her drinking, spent time hospitalised. Nothing worked. Once, our family met with a social worker at mum’s choice of venue, a pub!
Not every day was a bad day. The times she stopped drinking I hoped for the best. But in 1990, her liver ruined by alcohol, pneumonia killed her. Elected in 1997, I pinched myself. Wendy’s daughter – me, an MP! I never spoke about her illness. Too embarrassed. Then years later, a journalist asked: “How does it feel to be the age your mother died?”
My heart stopped. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Not how I would have chosen to speak about life with an alcoholic. I hope my story encourages understanding and support for children of alcoholics and for adults to see how alcohol affects families.
I still never drink alone. You survive. You stay strong. Wendy would have wanted that for me.