Increase in child bereavement from parental drinking

Charities raise awareness for Children of Alcoholics Week, 11-17 February 2024

New research has revealed a sharp increase in the number of children seeking support after experiencing the death of a parent due to alcoholism. According to the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa), requests for help from children who have lost a parent due to alcohol-related causes have risen from 29% in 2020 to 39% in 2023.

The devastating impact of parental alcoholism on children has been further highlighted by recent figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show a 27% increase in alcohol-specific deaths since 2019. The number of female alcohol deaths has also risen by 37% over the last five years.

In addition to the loss of a parent, children of alcohol-dependent parents face serious mental distress, with 55% of callers to Nacoa’s helpline reporting issues such as anxiety (60%), stress (51%), and depression (41%). A concerning 26% of callers also reported experiencing various forms of abuse, including emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as neglect.

The annual calls to Nacoa’s helpline have also seen a significant increase, reaching over 33,000 in 2023.

In light of these concerning statistics, MPs and charities have joined forces to urge the government to prioritize support for children of alcohol-dependent parents. In a joint letter to Health Minister Rt Hon. Andrea Leadsom MP, the Alcohol Families Alliance and the Chairs of major alcohol All-Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) have called for the reinstatement of dedicated support services for these vulnerable children, after all previous funding for such services was cut in 2021.

The devastating impact of parental alcoholism on children is often overlooked, with the focus primarily on the individual struggling with addiction. However, as one helpline caller shared, “It’s been so hard to watch my niece and her two children go through this over the years – even harder to watch them walk behind their dad’s coffin last week. Thank goodness there are organizations like Nacoa to help.”

11-year-old Emily, who has also been directly impacted by her parent’s alcoholism, has written a heartfelt plea to the government, “Please change the law around alcohol and help children like me so not as many people end up like this. If you even care about lives and want to save more people, then the NHS won’t be so busy! Please I beg you! Please help Nacoa to help children of alcoholics so they can be happier and have someone to understand them. I miss my dad so much and so does my brother. I would be so happy if you help us all, please.”

In recognition of the urgent need for support for children of alcoholics, The Right Hon. Jonathan Ashworth MP has been announced as a patron of Nacoa during Children of Alcoholics Week 2024. A passionate advocate for supporting these vulnerable children, Ashworth joins a list of high-profile patrons, including Tony Adams OBE, Calum Best, Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP, and Elle Macpherson.

Children of Alcoholics Week is an annual event that aims to raise awareness for the 2.6 million children in the UK affected by a parent’s drinking. This year’s theme, ‘Breaking the silence’, highlights the need to break the cycle of shame and secrecy surrounding parental alcoholism and encourage children to seek help and support.

According to Nacoa CEO Hilary Henriques MBE, “Behind these statistics are mothers and fathers whose children will have been living with the chaos of someone else’s drinking. But with greater awareness and support, we will help children to find healthy ways to cope and break the cycle of addiction.”

The charity is calling for systemic change to protect children and their families from the harmful effects of alcoholism. They are also urging the government to reinstate dedicated support for children of alcoholics and promote their voices in the public sphere to challenge the stigma that keeps them silenced.

Celebrities who have lent their support to Nacoa and Children of Alcoholics Week include TV star and author Vicky Pattison, who shared her personal experience of growing up with parental alcoholism in her documentary, ‘Alcohol, dad, and me’. “I felt so alone growing up with alcoholism in the family. You blame yourself and wonder what you are doing wrong. Why can’t they love you enough to stop? As an adult, I now know that there was nothing I could have done, but I wish I had known Nacoa existed and that you are never alone—there is always someone who understands. Since making my documentary, I’ve met so many amazing people through Nacoa and am proud to be a part of this work helping some of the most vulnerable children in the UK today,” Pattison says.

Nacoa, a registered charity since 1990, provides

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