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Demon drink

"You feel invisible" - the Irish children suffering from their parents' abuse of alcohol

A new Oireachtas grouping is targeting the harm done to children by their parents’ alcohol abuse.

shutterstock_93842515 Shutterstock / StockCube Shutterstock / StockCube / StockCube

THE IMPACT OF harmful drinking on Irish children by their parents has been outlined by a cross-party group at Leinster House.

Chaired by new senator Frances Black, the new Group on Alcohol Harm is seeking to draw attention to the children of such parents, who Black describes as “amongst the most vulnerable in society”.

Broadly speaking, the new group will seek to champion the new Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to introduce minimum pricing among other measures, as a means of preventing alcohol-related parental harm to children.

The effects of such parental alcohol abuse is described as a “hidden harm” by Black – not often visible in public and for the most part confined to behind closed doors.

The statistics

According to Alcohol Action Ireland:

  • 62% of child neglect cases in Ireland result from alcohol abuse
  • One in seven child welfare cases are due to parental drug or alcohol abuse 
  • Alcohol is a factor in a third of unnatural deaths involving Irish children
  • Similarly, alcohol is seen to be a factor in 75% of cases involving social workers applying for special care status for Irish teenagers
  • 271,000 children under 15 years of age in Ireland are living with parents who are regular ‘risky’ drinkers

Meanwhile, the Irish Society for the Prevention of Children to Children (ISPCC) recently ran a survey of 9,000 Irish children aged between 12 and 18 concerning their experiences regarding their parents and alcohol. Many of the comments in the survey are telling:

Parents won’t be able to have a proper conversation because they are too drunk to even remember what you’ve said.
You feel invisible.
Dad comes home drunk some nights and because he is drunk he starts fights in the family.
They just chose alcohol over children.
Roars at me and calls me scumbag and other bad words which hurt my feelings.
My mum was an alcoholic, fights and drunkenness at home scared me. She has been sober for 10 years but it was a stressful time.
It worries me; I can’t get on with my life as I am taking care of my mum.

grainia Grainia Long


“It is so prevalent in Ireland,” Grainia Long, chief executive of the ISPCC, tells Long says that, prior to the Oireachtas briefing, the ISPCC undertook a review of their Childline files and found a “considerable amount of concerned children and young people concerning alcohol abuse”.

“You’re looking at the kind of cases where a parent is neglecting their child, leaving them alone for long periods, or the child may be suffering from poor nutrition,” she says.

Parents are less affectionate, they’re not hugging their children, or they’re showing heightened levels of aggression, or in worse cases they’re smacking or slapping their kids.

She says that the effect is seasonal in many cases: “It can run around sporting events, or things like communions or confirmations – and children end up hating those kind of events.

Eventually what happens is a child stops trusting their parent, and when it comes to making big decisions they don’t talk to their mum or dad, and that lasts throughout childhood unless they look for help.

A child’s mental health health is extremely vulnerable in such situations, says Long.

“If their parents frequently drink to excess, a child will be stressed and worried. They won’t sleep because they don’t know when their parents are coming home,” she says.

Such children end up being worriers, and worried about the kind of things children shouldn’t have to be concerned about.
And then of course you have the pattern of replication, and children drinking themselves. Even worse – they can be encouraged to drink by their own parents.

The new alcohol and public health bill is a start when it comes to dealing with the problem, adds Long.

“It’s imperfect legislation, but it’s a start – a very, very good strong start, and we wholeheartedly support it and anything that will encourage a more sensible approach to alcohol consumption in Ireland.

Children are the ones who suffer when we take our current attitude. It’s time to break that cycle.

Read: Toddler dies after being struck by vehicle in Galway driveway

Read: Army shoot dead five cows as part of emergency culling in Monaghan

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