Substance misuse can have a major impact on family life. The effects of substance misuse by a parent or carer on children can be significant and long-lasting. You don’t have to be a dependant drinker for children and relationships in the home to be affected.
The precise number of children affected by parental substance misuse is not known. The current estimate is that about 40,000 children in Northern Ireland are living with a parent who misuses alcohol.1
When we talk about alcohol misuse we generally focus on the person who is directly affected, and on providing support and treatment for him or her. However, it is important to realise that the lives of others – children and other family members, friends, the community as a whole - can also be affected by drinkers’ behaviour.
The harm to children comes in many forms and includes:
- Parents may not be looking after them as well as they could; the child’s school life can be disrupted, eg, by being late for, or absent from, school or submitting poor, or no, homework.
- Children may not feel comfortable bringing friends home and may become isolated.
- Older children may take on roles beyond their age: caring for younger siblings and looking after the home.
- Some will experience emotional and physical abuse and neglect.
- Children can also be affected emotionally by the strain on relationships in the home.
Sadly, while under the influence of alcohol, their parents may have limited awareness of the impact their behaviour has on their children. For parents, learning to deal with their substance misuse, the realisation that their actions have an impact on their children can be a real motivator to address their problems.
If you feel you have a problem with alcohol, seek help. Do it for the sake of your children and for yourself. If you are a child or young person in this situation, it is important to tell somebody.
For further information on getting help go to:
1PHA/HSCB Hidden Harm Action Plan 2009