The Children’s Commissioner, Dr. Maggie Atkinson, has today published a report entitled ‘Silent Voices’ which highlights the impact of alcohol misuse on children. The report was commissioned owing to a growing concern about the number of children in the UK who currently live with parents who regularly binge drink, and the effect that this has on their emotional wellbeing and development. The report suggests that one in three children in the UK live with at least one parent who regularly binge drinks, and that there are approximately 460,000 children living with a single parent who regularly binge drinks.
Up until nineteen months ago, my eldest daughter (now almost fourteen) was one of those children. Before she reached the age of about eight or nine, I generally managed to keep my drinking hidden from her. She has always been a fantastic sleeper and so once she had gone to bed, I would hit the wine, safe in the knowledge that she most likely wouldn’t come downstairs. As she grew older, there would be occasions when she would stay up later (New Years Eve, Christmas, birthday celebrations, holidays, etc) and then she did witness my excessive drinking. I am ashamed to say that she saw me drunk several times.
More disturbing for her, I think, were the countless days when I had the mother of all hangovers, and I would stomp about the house like a bear with a sore head, snapping at her for the tiniest of reasons. I couldn’t be bothered to read her letters from school properly, or help her with her homework, or go swimming with her, or take her to the park. My head would be throbbing and my energy levels so depleted by the alcohol, that it was all I could do to drag myself out of bed and sit in front of mindless TV with her.
Don’t get me wrong, there were times when I did act like a proper mummy and devote myself and my time to my wonderful little girl, but there were many times when I did not. The hungover days began to be the norm in the last few years, and my daughter’s perception of me was one of a miserable old grump who was no fun at all. This insidious side effect of regular binge drinking has a very real and detrimental effect upon the children of binge drinkers.
The Silent Voices report, I hope, will make the Government stand up and notice how damaging binge drinking is in this country, and perhaps spur them on to doing something a little more helpful than creating the ‘Responsibility Deal’, introduced in the summer of 2010 in an effort to tackle the country’s growing drinking problem, and which appears to have been reduced to little more than a series of half-baked undertakings. If parents were regularly binging on class A drugs in the same numbers as partake in alcohol abuse, the House of Commons would be in uproar. As alcohol is legal, and enjoyed by the majority of Parliamentary ministers, concern is rather more tempered.
Parents should read this report and question whether their drinking impacts on their children. If one in three children are living with at least one binge drinker, then the effect on the next generation could be tremendous. Both my daughters now enjoy a mum who is happy and energetic and full of life, which is what every child deserves to have.