Children Of Alcoholics week: One million children may just be the tip of the iceberg
I listened to the radio for as long as I could bear on my car journey last week. Every news bulletin seemed to have the same purpose; to make me feel angry about the state of our country, if not the world. In a way, I suppose I should be grateful that I still react so strongly in the face of such depressing reports. After all, in the glare of our all-pervading, 24-hour media it is easy to become desensitised, to miss the fundamental problems that play out in our society daily. And sometimes, it does seem easier for us to stop listening; to stop caring.
This is the challenge that faces Nacoa in Children Of Alcoholics week, which starts today. So, what are the aims for Nacoa during this important week?
Firstly, we want to let people know that today in the UK there are almost one million children living with an alcohol dependent parent. And, secondly, we want to encourage people to suspend judgement of those parents.
Many will ask, why should we care about a problem that is essentially ‘self-made’? Well, here are a few facts and figures that might put our campaign into perspective:
Studies show that children of alcoholics are:
* Twice as likely to be in trouble with the police
* Twice as likely to develop alcoholism themselves
* Three times as likely to have an addiction to drugs
* Five times as likely to have an eating disorder
* Three times as likely to consider suicide
Everyday life for a child living with alcohol dependent parents is difficult, stressful and potentially traumatic. Many suffer problems at school, even falling asleep in class, because they have been awake all night listening to arguments. Some don’t eat properly because there is no money for food; they may not ever get their clothes washed and some will suffer abuse. Marked out by their peers for being different, and falling behind with their studies due to lack of parental support, the alcoholism at home begins to seep through every area of a child’s life. It isn’t hard then, to see the cycle developing and how if their needs for attention, affection and security continue to go unmet, they could carry such emotional issues into adulthood.
The earlier statistic of one million children being affected is, by nature of the condition, an inexact figure. The fact is there are likely to be so many more, because alcoholism is invariably a big family secret. The secret is kept for many reasons: shame, embarrassment, fear of betraying the family, fear of being taken away … there is so much fear surrounding the condition, and sadly, great stigma. This stigma creates a barrier between a child and opportunity.
So, how can Nacoa help children to overcome these barriers, to reach out for their opportunities?
Many services exist to support alcoholics and their families but Nacoa is the only UK charity supporting children whose parents have not acknowledged that there is a problem. Nacoa runs a free, confidential helpline for children affected by parental alcoholism, along with information, advice and emotional support. Callers to the helpline learn that it is not their fault. They learn that they didn’t cause their parents drinking, and they come to learn that there is no need to feel shame. Most importantly, Nacoa offers a safe place, without judgement, and without stigma. Nacoa helps children to make healthy decisions for themselves, so that they can lead full and happy lives regardless of whether their parent continues to drink.
We may only mark COA Week annually, but at Nacoa every week is COA Week as we continue to raise awareness of the one million children living with an alcohol-dependent parent. If we are able to suspend judgement and blame, we make it that much easier for these children to get the help that they need.
Things are changing, but slowly. There is still a long way to go and one day we might just get there. Let’s work together to suspend judgement, to prevent another generation from suffering the debilitating legacy of addiction.
Nacoa offers information, advice and emotional support for children affected by parental drinking and everyone concerned for their welfare. Helpline 0800 358 3456Children of Alcoholics Week, Nacoa
Latest from Independent journalists on Twitter