Millions of children are at risk due to an increase in heavy drinking among adults, combined with cuts to alcohol services.
An estimated 2.6 million children in the UK live with at least one parent who drinks too much.
An all-party parliamentary group on children of alcoholics has found excessive drinking has increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the UK’s alcohol-related death rate rising by a record 19 % in 2020 compared to 2019.
The group’s Freedom of Information survey also found that households that bought the most alcohol before the lockdown significantly increased their alcohol purchases when confined to their homes.
But despite this, 44% of council areas saw referrals to drug treatment fall – one council (Solihull) said referrals fell by almost 50%.
Some 65% of drug and alcohol treatment services have seen funding from their local authorities reduced or unchanged between 2019 and 2021, and 57% of municipalities have no strategy to support children of alcoholics.
Nearly three in 10 councils said they would reduce or maintain their budget for drug and alcohol treatment services through 2022.
Drinking problem ‘exploded’ during lockdown
APPG chairman Liam Byrne, who lost his father in a lifelong struggle with alcohol in 2015, told Sky News: ‘Alcohol problems skyrocketed during lockdown and it was just as support for the children of alcoholics in these families was being reduced.
“It’s a perfect storm that hits up to one in five children.
“So we don’t want these children to suffer in silence.
“We want them to know that their mum and dad’s drinking is not their fault.”
Lizzie Fletcher grew up with an alcoholic father, an experience she described as “lonely, scary and unpredictable”.
She told Sky News: “It was something no child should have to go through – I felt different from everyone else, I felt nobody understood me, I felt like I was alone in what I was going through.
“It’s not easy – you don’t really know what you’re going to get from your parents.
“One day they can be really happy and strong for you, and the next day they can be really depressed, anxious, drinking a lot.”
School was an escape
School was an escape for Ms Fletcher but, of course, the pandemic has taken that refuge away from today’s children, leaving them to deal with their parents’ alcoholism.
Josh Connelly, ambassador for the National Association for Child Alcoholics, told Sky News: “These children are six times more likely to experience domestic violence, they are three times more likely to consider suicide, two or three times more likely to go on to have addiction issues themselves.
“So when we look at the scale of what is happening to these children as they enter adulthood, we need to act while they are still young to get them the help and support they need. and they deserve.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said: “Protecting children of alcoholic parents is a priority for this government and over the next three years we will be providing £780million to local authorities for the treatment of addiction and recovery services.
“As part of a £7.2million package, we have also funded the expansion of the National Association for Children Alcoholics helpline, so that more children have access quick to support and advice.
“We remain committed to ensuring that all children in this difficult situation are supported and that help is available for their parents struggling with alcohol addiction.”