By Andrew Holt
In a new report released today, Over the Limit: The Truth about Families and Alcohol, national charity 4Children warns of a silent epidemic of alcohol misuse by British families.
The report warns that too many parents remain oblivious to the negative effects that alcohol can have on their parenting.
An alarming 19% believe alcohol has a positive effect on their parenting ability and 62% of parents say that their drinking behaviour has no impact on their family at all. Over the Limit says it does.
Over the Limit: The Truth about Families and Alcohol highlights the stark impact of drinking in family crisis and demands better support and information for families to turn around their dependency and prevent chronic problems from taking root.
Over the Limit highlights that:
22% of children live with a parent who drinks hazardously
6% of children (around 700,000 across the country) live with a dependent drinker
62% of children who were subject to care proceedings were from families with parental alcohol misuse
More than a third of all domestic violence cases involve alcohol
The report warns of the stark reality of life for families where drinking has reached hazardous levels and is calling for a series of wide ranging reforms including a commitment from the alcohol industry to recognise their responsibility to the wellbeing of consumers by diverting 1% of revenue to fund a new alcohol awareness campaign aimed at families.
Shocking research from the report reveals that:
Just under a quarter of parents continued to drink as much alcohol as before their baby’s birth and that 17% actually increased their consumption.
29% of mothers and 30% of their partners drink more than the recommended units per week.
5% of mothers increased their drinking during pregnancy and 8% continued to drink the same amount as before they became pregnant.
Only 9% of parents recognised that there was a negative impact of drinking or drug use on their family life. 19% said that their drinking impacted ‘positively’ on their children.
9% of parents who drink on a weekly basis thought their families benefited financially.
Anne Longfield OBE, 4Children chief executive, said: “This report demands that we think again about our relationship with alcohol for our families’ sake. The statistics speak for themselves with consumption of alcohol known to be a major factor in family crisis – from domestic abuse and family conflict to a breakdown in family relationships and the ability to parent.
“It is no use waiting for alcohol and drugs to take their grip on families and only intervene when a child protection case is called. We need to see a greater focus on families within wider strategies around addiction.
“Addiction and the subsequent breakdown in many families is the end of a story that often starts with so called ‘normal’ use. With proper warnings to parents and better awareness of the impact that alcohol can have, we can avoid the crises that addiction can cause.”
Sally Russell, Netmums founder, said: “While it’s always the priority that children are kept safe, it’s also vital that parents feel supported in order to begin to change behaviour, rather than feeling preached at.
"No parent wants to be an addict harming their own children, so services must work together to provide the best environment for change.
“Families blighted by drug and alcohol abuse need to know there are family-focused services that will help them tackle their problems and become better parents – and professionals working with these families on a day to day basis must have the confidence and skills to broach the issue and ensure troubled parents can access this help.
“Getting this right would make an enormous difference to the lives of children in the families affected, and make substantial inroads into the ending the devastating emotional and economic effects of substance abuse."
Simon Antrobus, Addaction Chief Executive said: “At Addaction, we are aware of the devastating impact that alcohol use can have on family life. In a recent report Addaction highlighted the dangers of parental substance misuse on children and how family-based interventions need to be used to tackle the intergenerational cycle of addiction.
“We strongly welcome the recommendations in the 4Children report; in particular those of increased alcohol awareness and a ‘whole family’ approach. To help these vulnerable families we need to ensure that a combined commitment is made to provide accurate, timely and accessible alcohol education, advice and information, alongside long-term investment in high quality early intervention and support services with families and communities.”
4Children is calling for a major public information campaign, funded by the alcohol industry, to provide better information and more help to families via health visitors and midwives via schools and children’s centres.
It demands the protection of existing funding for alcohol and drugs services that may be a casualty of the transition from PCTs to Clinical Commissioning Groups.
The charity is also calling on the UK alcohol industry, estimated to be worth £6 billion annually, to invest 1% of its value into help for families to prevent alcohol dependency and family crises.
Anne Longfield added: “Families need help to make the right decisions around drinking and substance use. In some cases, a warning label may provide the nudge that’s needed. For many, a more far reaching intervention will be in order.
"We need to remain focused on maintaining and extending services to encompass prevention strategies and that should include better labelling and a concerted effort to reach parents to be and very new parents so that they are aware of the dangers of alcohol.
"The alcohol industry is in a position to be able to take on some of the stewardship and should be encouraged to do so as part of its corporate social responsibility strategies.”
A revision of the ‘responsibility deal’ with the UK alcohol industry to ensure they recognise their responsibility to the wellbeing of consumers and their families by diverting an additional 1% of revenue (approximately £60m) to fund a new alcohol awareness campaigns and treatment services, particularly those aimed at families.
Supplement existing ‘danger warnings’ for pregnant women on alcohol packaging with additional labelling warning of the potential impacts of drinking on children.
Alcohol awareness – ‘Beer Goggles’ – sessions should be offered widely through schools, children’s centres, and youth clubs to ensure we are all fully informed of the dangers of drinking alcohol when raising children.
Midwives and Health Visitors need to redouble efforts to identify families for whom alcohol or drugs are a problem and in addition provide clear and unambiguous advice to all expectant and new parents about the harm that alcohol and drugs can do.
A ‘whole family’ approach must be adopted to providing support to those suffering from alcohol or substance misuse to ensure we harness the resource of the family to support those in treatment, and to effectively identify and reduce harm to other family members.
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