Parental alcohol misuse has huge impact

Initiative aims to give voice to those affected
  • Deborah Condon

A new initiative aims to raise awareness of the impact of growing up in a home where parents misuse alcohol.

An estimated 400,000 adults in Ireland today grew up in families affected by alcohol, and some 200,000 children are currently living in such homes, according to the national charity for alcohol-related issues, Alcohol Action Ireland (AAI).

It has launched the initiative, Silent Voices, which aims to ‘end the silence of this experience, by promoting an understanding of the adverse impacts of parental alcohol misuse on the lives of children, including children who are now adults'.

It is also hoping to engage with existing service providers to secure supports for those affected.

Silent Voices is being driven by three women who experienced parental alcohol misuse as children - Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan.

According to Ms Fawsitt, who is also chairperson of AAI, the misuse of alcohol by parents, and its impact on children, ‘is something that rarely gets an airing or acknowledgement in Irish society'.

"Many of us have grown up under a shadow of alcohol misuse. The harms and negative impacts of growing up under this shadow can manifest themselves in different ways, but especially at a time of life change, such as a family bereavement, redundancy or pregnancy.

"It's my experience that life change with a backdrop of parental alcohol misuse can take its toll, and services, such as counselling, often don't recognise the link between parental alcohol misuse and trauma in adult children," she commented.

She encouraged affected adults who are experiencing trauma in their lives to seek help ‘and don't be afraid to do so'.

"It is our experience, as the instigators of Silent Voices, that by seeking help, many latent fears and coping mechanisms adopted in childhood can be addressed with significant personal benefits," Ms Fawsitt explained.

However, she emphasised that when it comes to service providers, a greater recognition of this issue ‘is critical'.

"Over the coming years, Silent Voices wants to grow awareness of alcohol harm to others, through direct engagement with practitioners and service providers, so that the harm can be more easily recognised and discussed.

"Critically, we will be engaging with national sign-posting services so that those seeking help can be clear about what service to contact, and what help they can expect," she noted.

She said that she hoped that for those growing up in affected homes, greater recognition of this issue will ensure that young people ‘don't fall through the net, as many in previous generations have'.

"By opening a conversation and recognising the harms of parental alcohol misuse, we hope that teachers, youth leaders and family members will become more vigilant and become aware of who to reach out to when an intervention is required," Ms Fawsitt said.

The keynote address at the launch of Silent Voices was given by BBC News Africa editor, Fergal Keane.

"As someone who experienced parental alcohol misuse while growing up, I am delighted that AAI has launched the Silent Voices initiative, which will start a conversation and foster a better understanding of what I believe is a deep societal issue with alcohol.

"For those who know the loneliness, the confusion and pain that can come from being the child where parental alcohol misuse is a pattern in their life, Silent Voices will be a vital resource. It will tell people that they are not alone," he said.

Also speaking at the launch, Dr Sharon Lambert from the department of applied psychology at University College Cork pointed out that growing up in a home where alcohol is misused can have a life-long impact. In fact, studies have shown that living with a parent who abuses substances can have an adverse impact on both a child's physical and mental health later in life.

"Misusing alcohol may result in a parent not being able to provide the emotional or physical care required for young children. The worry or anxiety experienced by a child in this situation may result in behavioural or emotional issues, the cause for which teachers and caregivers are unable to identify and therefore may dismiss as bad behaviour rather than recognise that a child is struggling.

"Well-informed education and healthcare professionals are vital to buffer the impact of parental problem drinking on children," she insisted.

As well as focusing on service provision to help support people who have been affected, AAI, through Silent Voices, aims to stimulate a conversation in families, workplaces and among friends on this issue.

It will be gathering and publishing anonymous stories from people who have grown up with parental alcohol misuse. These stories are being published here

For more information on Silent Voices, click here

 


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