Parental Alcohol Misuse and Children

Small-scale qualitative studies indicate the potential effectiveness of interventions promoting resilience among children whose parents misuse alcohol.

This POSTnote will describe estimates of the prevalence of parental alcohol misuse in the UK, together with a summary of the evidence of the effects of parental alcohol misuse on children, and existing interventions to reduce the associated risks and treat those affected by it.

Studies on parental alcohol misuse (PAM) show that it has significant negative effects on children’s physical and mental wellbeing. There is no systematic national data on children affected by parental drinking and estimates range from 1.3 to 3 million children in the UK being affected. This POSTnote will outline what is known about the prevalence and effects of parental alcohol misuse. It will also describe interventions to treat those affected by PAM.

Current research focuses primarily on children with alcohol-dependent parents. It is estimated that in 2014-2015 there were 222,007 children living in a household with an adult who had symptoms of alcohol dependence. There is less data on how different types of drinking, such as binge drinking, or consumption at lower levels, may affect children. Parental alcohol misuse (PAM) frequently co-occurs with other risk factors such as drug abuse, violence, family conflict, and mental health problems. Pre-natal exposure is linked to poor growth, behavioural disorders, and learning difficulties. PAM at the peri-natal stage and beyond is linked to adverse childhood experiences such as young caring responsibilities, neglect, abuse, parental conflict and separation. These experiences put children at higher risk of mental health issues including depression, anxiety and eating disorders, behavioural and educational difficulties, and of misusing alcohol themselves.

For more information, or to contribute to this project please contact Sophie Hedges or Dr Caroline Kenny.