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alcohol health alliance uk

Parents 2 x more likely than non-parents to drink more since Covid

A mother and son washing up

A mother and son

Posted 18/02/21

Alcohol may be taking its toll on North East families during the pandemic as new figures show parents are twice as likely as non-parents to be drinking more heavily since it began.

Balance has published the results of a survey of over 900 people during national Children of Alcoholics Week #COAWeek2021. It comes as the NSPCC also release figures this week showing that concerns about alcohol and drugs misuse have soared since the start of the pandemic.

While health campaigners and charities have warned that many drinkers are drinking more since Covid began, especially those who were already drinking heavily, the independent survey by Balance is one of the first in depth studies to point to a worrying trend among people with children under 18 living at home.

Among those who drink alcohol, it found parents are around twice as likely (38%) as non-parents (18%) to be drinking more often since before the pandemic .

Parents (31%) were also more likely to be drinking more units on a typical drinking day, compared to non-parents (17%).

Among those who drink alcohol, it also found:
• Nearly half of parents (48%) are increasing or higher risk drinkers compared to 37% of non-parents.
• Parents are more likely to admit to binge drinking - with 44% binge drinking monthly or more often compared to around 33% of non-parents. One in 20 parents (4%) say they are binge drinking on a daily or almost daily basis.
• Parents are more likely to be concerned about their drinking (14%) than non-parents (9%). However, 85% are still not very concerned about their drinking or not concerned at all.

Parents (29%) are also more likely than non-parents (16%) to have increased their risk levels on the Audit C test - the test used in Primary Care to assess alcohol consumption, patterns and feelings about drinking.

Colin Shevills, Director of Balance, said: “These are worrying figures which clearly show that families and parents with children at home are feeling the pressures of 2020 and the pandemic. Parenting is stressful to begin with but add in home schooling, juggling work with childcare and worries about the pandemic and it is a perfect storm.

“We are seeing a pattern where many thousands in our region are now drinking in a way which could impact on health, impact on family and put them further down a road towards daily drinking and alcohol addiction.

“Clearly charities are very worried by the figures, which in some cases are impacting on children’s lives. It’s easy to say “that’s not me” – however we know that 1 in 20 parents are binge drinking nearly every day, which is not good for anyone’s own lives or their family.”

He added: “Alcohol is not the answer right now – while many are drinking more, others are cutting back. That is why we are encouraging people to think about their relationship with alcohol and find ways to cut down, take more drink free days and do whatever you can if alcohol is starting to take a hold.”

A separate survey by Balance released in November found that one in 5 drinkers (18%) say there have been more arguments and tension in their family during the pandemic because of alcohol.

COA Week is a campaign to raise awareness of children affected by parental alcohol problems, celebrated internationally each year during the week in which Valentine’s Day falls. In the UK, COA Week is led by the charity Nacoa UK who provide year-round support.

The NSPCC has also reported this week that concerns about drug and alcohol use have soared since the start of the pandemic, with latest figures show the monthly average number of contacts to the NSPCC helpline from people across the UK worried about parental substance misuse is 66% higher since April 2020.

In the North East and Cumbria, the average monthly number of child welfare referrals about parental alcohol or substance misuse made by the NSPCC helpline rose by 120% - from an average of 31 per month between January and March 2020, to 69 per month between April 2020 and January 2021. In the last 10 months, there were a total of 687 referrals in the North East and Cumbria.

The NSPCC’s concerns are being backed by Adfam, a charity which provides support to families affected by drug, alcohol or gambling addiction.

Vivienne Evans OBE, Chief Executive of Adfam said: “These findings from Balance are worrying. We know the effects of alcohol use in the family can go well beyond the direct effects on the person who is drinking.

“Even when someone is not classed as dependent, children can find it worrying and unsettling if they see a parent binge drinking or drunk. Alcohol can lead to rows and family tension. Children also copy their parents and what they see at home might also shape their own behaviour around alcohol in the future.”

She added: “Living with a loved one who uses alcohol has a huge impact on the whole family. We are seeing that the usual daily challenges associated with a parent or family member’s alcohol or drug problem – fear, domestic abuse, isolation, loneliness, and mental stress – are being exacerbated by the lockdown measures.

“A staggering 88% of the families that we surveyed in our ‘Families in Lockdown’ survey told us that the first lockdown negatively impacted on their family member’s alcohol, drug or gambling problem. A third of families experienced an increase in verbal abuse from their family member and 13% feel more concerned than usual for their safety.

“As drug and alcohol misuse is so stigmatised, we know that many young people are scared to seek support, and for many children affected by parental substance use, the lockdown impedes them from the safety of the school environment. We know that with the right kind of support, children and young people can navigate this challenging time. We urge families not to wait until breaking point.”

Last year the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ analysis of Public Health England’s data on the indirect effects of Covid-19 found that over 8.4 million people were drinking at higher risk levels, up from 4.8 million in February 2020. It warned addiction services in England are not equipped to treat the soaring numbers of people drinking at high risk during the pandemic.