Harmful drinking is the biggest risk factor for death, ill-health and disability among 15-49 year-olds in the UK, and the fifth biggest risk factor across all ages. Alcohol is linked to more than 60 medical conditions including liver disease, some cancers and depression, and in 2015 there were 8758 deaths related to alcohol in the UK. But alcohol also affects the families of those who drink harmfully.
This week is Alcohol Awareness Week, run by my charity, Alcohol Concern in partnership with Adfam. This year it’s focusing on alcohol and families. With more than 800 local authorities, services and charities across the UK taking part, this is the biggest Alcohol Awareness Week ever. Throughout the week, we aim to challenge the stigma surrounding alcohol, and drive an open and honest conversation about the harm alcohol can do to individuals and families.
Children with alcohol-dependent parents are three times more likely to consider suicide, and four times as likely to become dependent drinkers themselves. A report published last week by the Children’s Society revealed that parents’ alcohol use is damaging the lives of an estimated 700,000 young people in the UK. The report found that the pressures on young people from homes where parents drink too much can lead to them developing mental health problems, running away from home or being excluded from school. They are in desperate need of support, so that they don’t have to face these problems alone.
Alcohol misuse doesn’t only impact children – all family members affected by alcohol deserve support, whether they are partners, parents or siblings. Yet currently only one in six families affected by alcohol receive help. This is in part because of the stigma surrounding alcohol, which means that the families impacted by it are unlikely to seek help. Feelings of shame, as well as not realising they need and deserve help, means many families suffer in silence.
It’s also because of the limited availability of alcohol services: more than two thirds of councils have cut back on essential drug and alcohol services. That’s why we are calling for change: there needs to be more funding for services for individuals and families affected by alcohol. As part of the campaign, we held an event in Westminster on Monday, at which parliamentarians from across all parties called for immediate action.
But it’s not all bad news. There are great services are already running across the country – services like SIAS in Solihull and SSSFT in Cambridgeshire. People need to know that help is out there, and that it’s for them.
If you are suffering as a result of your own or others’ drinking, you deserve support. Talk to your GP for confidential advice. If you think you and/or someone you know may be drinking too much, contact Drinkline on 0800 7 314 314. Al-Anon provides support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking. Visit al-anonuk.org.uk. You can find more support services through Adfam. Visit adfam.org.uk. Alternatively, contact Alcohol Focus Scotland at alcohol-focus-scotland.org.uk.
Dr Richard Piper is CEO of Alcohol Concern