Speaking at a Leinster House briefing outlining how harmful drinking affects children, chair of the Oireachtas cross-party group on alcohol harm, senator Frances Black, said children living with parents who drink excessively often “suffer in silence”.
“The wide range of harms that are caused to children as a result of harmful drinking in the home is known as ‘hidden harm’, as the harm is not often visible in public and largely kept behind closed doors,” she said.
“These vulnerable children do not know where to turn for help, and the impact of harmful parental drinking has a deep and long-lasting impact.”
Barnardos head of advocacy June Tinsely said the “negative impact alcohol has on family functioning” is too often underestimated.
Alcohol Action Ireland previously revealed that a national audit of child neglect cases showed alcohol misuse by parents was a factor in 62% of neglect cases.
The cross-party group is backing the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill, which aims to reduce our high levels of alcohol consumption in Ireland.
ISPCC CEO Grania Long said the organisation sees the bill as a “key step in helping to change our attitude to, and relationship with, alcohol,” and said: “Children and young people have repeatedly told us they want their exposure to alcohol reduced — it is our responsibility to deliver on their aspirations.”
The ISPCC said regular heavy drinking by parents damages the child’s relationship with their parent, causes a child to live with undue stress, and, if the addiction is severe, can lead to child neglect.
Barnardos also reported how parental alcohol abuse can place an undue burden on older children who have to get their younger siblings up in the morning, for example, as their parents are too unwell to care for them.
Barnardos said that while the impact of heavy drinking on children varies depending on the frequency and severity of the alcohol misuse, it can result in children feeling confused and rejected by a cycle of broken promises.
Ms Tinsley said children living with parents with an alcohol addiction experience irregular and inconsistent parenting.
“It can affect their school life with children of parents with chronic alcohol problems more likely to have problems at school in terms of learning difficulties, reading problems, poor concentration, and generally low performance,” she said.
Ms Long warned: “Parental behaviour influences that of a child and no more so than in relation to alcohol. ISPCC support workers particularly point to occasion-related drinking as affecting children, such as around Communion and Confirmation time.”
The Government’s Public Health (Alcohol) Bill proposes minimum unit pricing which would mean a 500 ml can of Guinness with 4.2% ABV would have a MUP of €1.66 while a bottle of white wine with 12.7% ABV would have an MUP of €7.52.
Under the bill, alcohol advertising would be banned near schools, playgrounds, and at bus and train stations. A broadcasting watershed is also planned.