Problematic Consumption of Alchology

The Harm Inflicted on Children by the Problematic Consumption of Alchology by a Parent or Parents For the purpose of this essay, problem drinking is defined simply as any drinking which causes problems to the drinkers or others. The focus of this essay is the harm inflicted on children by the problematic consumption of alcohol by a parent or parents. An estimated 920,000 children are currently living with a parent who misuses alcohol: heavy drinking by parents was identified as a factor in over one fifth of child protection case conferences and twenty three per cent of child neglect calls to a national helpline were alcohol related (Green, 2000).

Despite these alarming statistics, help for families affected by alcohol misuse is woefully inadequate. Families that experience problems with alcohol are fragile families. Harms related to alcohol are by no means restricted to drinkers themselves as those around them can also be damaged. The children of problem drinkers are particularly vulnerable to harm. A childhood in such a family can mean a childhood in distress: a distress that is often hidden to those outside the family and neglected by policy makers.

The problematic consumption of alcohol affects millions of families, and thus millions of children, causing harm and misery on a scale which dwarfs the problems associated with illegal drugs. Despite this, the government often devotes more resources to campaigns against illegal drugs. In February 1998 the government announced its intentions to introduce a national alcohol strategy in its green paper ‘Our Healthier Nation.’

The Minister for Public health, Tessa Jowell made a statement, in 1998, about the needs of children of problem drinking parents. She commented that under present arrangements it is not always clear who is responsible for providing services for the children of problem drinking parents. However, she gave an assurance that the needs of children and families will be taken into account in the national strategy on alcohol misuse now being prepared.

A year later she said that the national strategy for alcohol would now be in the summer of 1999. Another year later the Department of Health declared it would be ready in summer 2000 (Green, 2000): but there is still no sign of it in May 2001. During this period a national drug strategy has been implemented and increased funding given to services for people who use illegal drugs. The result has been that drug services have been prioritised above alcohol services at both a national and local level.

Therefore, as we still do not have any explicit reference to the family aspects of the problems in policy, or any authoritative statement by government ministers recognising the existence of the problems and the needs to do something about them, lack of information makes difficult even a rudimentary estimation of the size of the problems. Children are paying the price of the clear difference in public attitudes towards problems associated with alcohol and those associated with the illegal drugs. When problems occur with illegal drugs the tendency is to blame the drugs; when problems occur with alcohol, the tendency is to blame the drinker. Thus, there is a clear temptation to look on alcohol abuse as a question of individual choice: if someone wishes to risk his or her health then so be it. But, this overlooks the fact that in many families others are exposed to risk, children in particular. A great many of these children are more vulnerable to abuse and bad health.

A report, Under the Influence: Coping with Parents who Drink Too Much. (Brisby, et. al. 1997) was released jointly with ChildLine’s Beyond the Limit: Children, who live with parental alcohol misuse, (1997). These reports examined the effects of parents problem drinking and called for action to provide services for groups of children who were very much neglected. Alcohol Concern stated that children whose parents drink too much are children at risk. They are at risk of physical abuse, sexual abuse and emotional neglect or abuse, or unhappy, stressful childhoods and of serious problems in adult life.

The report by ChildLine, (1997), brought together the finds of an analysis of 3,255 calls made by children and young people where alcohol was a factor in the problem they rang up about. These children and young people rarely suffered from one difficulty alone. They were beset by problems. The child callers talked not only about the main problem that prompted their call but also about other things that were difficult in their lives. Out of the whole of the sample of 3,225 children, over sixty per cent described suffering physical assaults, fourteen per cent of sexual assault and six cent of emotional abuse of neglect.

Over 1,300 children who called with physical abuse as their main problem, which was more than one in seven, identified alcohol misuse by carers as a trigger to physical assault (ChildLine, 1997). ChildLine also heard from children who were physically assaulted by the non-drinking parent. The children explained that there was a great deal of stress on this parent who was trying to keep the family going and that this was why they end up ‘lashing’ out. The children here may see themselves as adding to the stress and hence doubly bear the burden.

ChildLine (1997), states that out of about two hundred and ninety children, nearly four per cent of all children calling about sexual assault, described drunken adult carers as the perpetrators of the abuse. Sometime the assaults were one-off, but others described the abuse happening regularly over a long period of time. The father, or a person in the father role, perpetrated the majority of the sexual abuse, although this person was not always the carer with the alcohol problem. Sometimes children telephoning ChildLine described their mother being too drunk to notice or both parents drinking together. Children also talked about sexual abuse at the hands of men brought home when their mother had been drinking. A small number of boys spoke of being sexually abused by their mother when she was drunk.

National Institute for Social Work’s (NISW) research, Working with Families with alcohol, drug and mental Health Problems the needs of this group of children is still not being met. Kearney et. al., (2000) state that meeting the needs of this …

Also for a substantial minority of the affected children, the problems continue into their adult lives and indeed, some children of problems drinking parents themselves become transmitters of the problems to the next generation. Children whose parents are problem drinkers are …

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The above table corroborates that Whites tops the list of teenage drinking. Government should take initiatives to educate particularly among whites about the evils of drinking. How the health issue can present itself in the classroom and/or at home? If …

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