Parental alcohol misuse impacts more than 70,000 children

Thousands of children in England are struggling with the impacts of parental alcohol misuse, a national children’s charity has reported.

The NSPCC says that thousands of children in England are affected by parental alcohol misuseLast year, Child in Need assessments identified 71,580 children as living with a parent who regularly and consistently misuses alcohol, and the NSPCC reports that its helpline regularly receives contacts about this issue.

The national children’s charity said its Helpline received an average of 6 contacts per day from adults with concerns about children with parents who misuse alcohol or drugs. Meanwhile, their Childline counselling service delivered 338 counselling sessions to children who had concerns about this issue last year.

The NSPCC said that children contacting Childline about parents with alcohol issues sometimes disclosed abusive behaviour.

NSPCC urges people to lookout for signs of parental alcohol misuse

Parental alcohol misuse is a hidden problem in England which can seriously impact a child's wellbeingThe charity highlighted the parental alcohol misuse figures to mark Children of Alcoholics Week recently. The annual campaign, led by the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa), aims to raise awareness of how children can be impacted by a parent’s drinking.

The NSPCC urged any adult with concerns about a child to speak out about this hidden issue, including by contacting their Helpline, so that the child and their family can receive specialist support.

They outlined a number of signs that a family may be experiencing problems related to alcohol misuse. These include:

  • Parents being visually under the influence of alcohol
  • A change in the behaviour of a parent, as they may experience difficulty controlling their emotions or act irrationally or unpredictably
  • The family leading an increasingly chaotic or unpredictable lifestyle
  • Aggressive or repeated shouting at home
  • Children taking on caring responsibilities for their parents or siblings
  • Children appearing dirty or not changing their clothes
  • Parents struggling to recognise and respond to their children’s needs

Parental alcohol misuse ‘one of the great secrets in our society’

The NSPCC’s Helpline Director, Kam Thandi, said that living with parental alcohol misuse can result in children “feeling isolated, confused, embarrassed and ashamed.”

She added:

“The truth is, this is an issue that is often not talked about within a family and attempts are made to hide it. But secrecy makes it difficult for anyone else to notice and provide support, which is why we’re urging adults to look out for the signs and to encourage those impacted by it to speak out and seek help, so in turn children and families can be supported.”

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive of Nacoa UK, Hilary Henriques MBE, said:

“Imagine a childhood where your life is taken over by your parent’s drink problem.  Coming home from school not knowing what you’ll find. Having no friends because you can’t take them home.

“Drink and the effects it has on children is one of the great secrets in our society today. That is why during COA Week we sweep everything aside and break the silence, to let these vulnerable young people know they are not alone.”

Substance misuse can have a serious impact on families

Parents struggling with alcohol misuse may fail to recognise or meet their children's needsThe NSPCC says that the majority of parents who use alcohol or drugs do so in moderation and do not pose a risk to their children.

Long-term substance or alcohol misuse, however, is different and can mean that parents develop mental, psychological and physical illnesses. While this does not necessarily mean that they will abuse their child, it can make it more difficult for them to provide safe and loving care. This can therefore mean that children do come to experience abuse or neglect, and it can have a serious impact on a family’s emotional wellbeing.

Anyone worried about their own substance misuse can contact the NSPCC helpline or ask their local GP for support. The NHS website also features a database of treatment services and Alcohol Change UK provide online advice about managing drinking.

First Response Training (FRT) is a leading national training provider delivering courses in subjects such as health and safety, first aid, fire safety, manual handling, food hygiene, mental health, health and social care, safeguarding and more.

They work with a large number of early years, schools and childcare providers, as well as schools, colleges, and children’s services. Their courses include Safeguarding Children, Understanding Mental Health and Anxiety Awareness. They also have a Substance Misuse Awareness training course.

A trainer from FRT says:

“Home should be somewhere where children feel safe and secure and where they know they will be well cared for. It is desperately sad that thousands of children may experience loneliness, isolation, anxiety and even abuse and neglect because of a parent’s alcohol misuse.

“Those who work closely with children and young people should be aware of any signs that there is an underlying issue at home impacting their health and wellbeing, and should raise any concerns they have within the appropriate channels. Training can provide the understanding, knowledge and confidence to enable them to do this.”

For more information on the training that FRT can provide, please call them today on freephone 0800 310 2300 or send an e-mail to