Surge in calls about parents’ drink and drugs

Children can be traumatised by their parents' addictions. Picture: PA
Children can be traumatised by their parents' addictions. Picture: PA
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The number of youngsters contacting ChildLine with concerns about their parents’ alcohol abuse or drug-taking has more than doubled in the UK in the space of a year, figures reveal.

The NSPCC said its 24-hour helpline service had seen an average of 15 counselling sessions a day with children, linked to alcohol and drugs concerns in the home.

The figures revealed ChildLine bases across the UK carried out 5,323 counselling sessions with children worried about their parents’ abuse of drink or drugs in 2012-13 – up from 2,509 the previous year.

Many of the children who contacted ChildLine spoke about living in fear of their parents’ anger, with one in six saying they had been hit by a parent under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

One child who spoke to ChildLine Glasgow said: “I’ve missed out on a proper mother-daughter relationship. Mum has a drug problem and she tells me that she wishes I’d have never been born.”

Counsellors at Childline bases in Glasgow and Aberdeen carried out 956 counselling sessions with children and young people by telephone, online chat and e-mail, dealing with concerns about parental drug and alcohol abuse in 2012-13.

The Scottish centres deal with a high proportion of calls made from children in Scotland but also handle inquiries from elsewhere in the UK.

The reason for the increasing number of inquiries linked to alcohol and drug misuse could be due to rising problems among parents as well as growing awareness of the ChildLine service, the charity said.

Susan Dobson, ChildLine service manager, said: “It may be that more parents are using drink and drugs as a way of coping with stress in difficult times.

“It could also be that more children and young people know to call ChildLine when they have a problem.

“Whatever the reasons behind the rise, we know that children worry a great deal about their parents when they have a problem, and many are carers for their parents.”

“We need to make sure that these children and young people get the help and support they need.”

Where the age of the children contacting ChildLine with alcohol and drug concerns was known, almost two-thirds (61 per cent) of inquiries were from those aged 12 to 15 and 26 per cent from 16 to 18-year-olds.

But more than one in ten (13 per cent) were from youngsters under 11.

Some children spoke of living in dirty and dangerous surroundings, lacking essentials because money was being spent on alcohol or drugs.

One teenager, who contacted the Aberdeen ChildLine base, told counsellors: “Things are tense at home – mum is an alcoholic and dad is always stressed.

“I’m often left at home by myself and I end up crying myself to sleep most nights.”

It is estimated that between 40,000 and 60,000 children in Scotland may be affected by problematic parental drug use, while between 36,000 and 51,000 are believed to be living with and may be at risk from their parents’ alcohol misuse.

Jennifer Curran, from Alcohol Focus Scotland, said action to increase price and reduce availability of alcohol was vital.

“Thousands of children across Scotland are living with parents who misuse alcohol and other drugs,” she said.

“Research published by Alcohol Focus Scotland last year shows that one in two Scots are affected in some way by other people’s drinking, and one in three report having a heavy drinker in their lives.”

Aileen Campbell, Scotland’s minister for children and young people, said: “Dealing with parental substance misuse will be devastating for a child so we must recognise the trauma that each one of the calls to ChildLine represents.”