It’s the time of year when we’re focused on New Year’s resolutions and the goals we hope to achieve in the year ahead. It’s perhaps not surprising that various fundraising campaigns have sprung up to try and capitalise on the nation’s obsession of starting the year by doing things differently.
Think Dryathlon (for cancer research) and Love your Liver (for the British Liver Trust) and you can see there’s plenty of focus on using alcohol, or a lack of it, as a means to fundraise. But while Love your Liver is certainly grounded in health awareness, it is Dry January that offers real social commentary. The idea is a great one – give up drink for a month to raise money – but what it really serves to highlight is just how accepted alcohol is as an everyday part of our lives.
For me, we must be careful to remember that beneath these catchy slogans, the real message is that alcohol must always be treated with care. Experts warn that we’re on the verge of an alcohol epidemic and according to a report by Public Health England, more than ten million Britons drink to harmful levels.
As a charity working with children and young people in care, alcoholism is an all too familiar part of their story and an issue we deal with everyday. Responsible for family breakdown, domestic violence, abuse, mental health issues and neglect – the effects of alcoholism are as damaging to the family as to the person drinking, and children are certainly the most affected.
Children living with an alcoholic parent almost always suffer. Since alcohol is the drinker’s priority, parent responsibilities are typically neglected. There is plenty of research to show that alcoholism in parents is linked with negative outcomes in children – be that in relation to educational attainment, poor physical and mental health, low self esteem and the increased likelihood that they’ll go on to develop addictions of their own. Those living with an alcoholic parent have a staggering two to ten-fold increased risk that they’ll develop the same addiction (Lieberman 2000).
Alcoholism is not an isolated issue and other problems often co-exist for the sufferer – these might be underlying mental health problems, financial insecurity or trying to come to terms with their own experiences of neglect and abuse.
We regularly hear stories from children who are fearful to return home from school because of what might happen if a parent is drunk, or children who have to take on far greater responsibilities than their years by caring for younger siblings and even the alcoholic parent. For cases like these, social services and the care system have an invaluable part to play in helping to secure and protect the safety and wellbeing of these children. This is not always about removing them into care though – it can be about providing combined support services to help the alcoholic address their problems and to keep the family functioning and the children safe too.
All children should grow up in an environment that is safe and be surrounded by people who love, care and nurture them, but sadly this is not always the case. Family support workers, advocates and care workers operate at the forefront of these issues, working with families who face all sorts of problems every day. Alcoholism is a very real threat – not just to the health of individuals but to the bonds that hold families together and the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of the next generation and society as a whole.
It seems fitting to finish with a testimonial given to one of our care advocates from a young person whose mum had recently stopped drinking. They said: "I’m not scared anymore when I walk through the door, before I was scared when I came home in case Mum was drunk. I’m not worried anymore because my Family Support Worker is there".
For information on how to access NYAS’s Children and Vulnerable Adults Services visit: https://www.nyas.net/children-vulnerable-adults-services or to put a child or young person in touch with our helpline, ask them to call 0808 808 1001.