Study: Some U.K. Moms and Dads Say Drinking Improves Their Parenting

A study carried out by the UK charity 4Children has warned of a silent epidemic of alcohol misuse by British families.

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REUTERS/Darren Staples

A girl walks past a poster warning of alcohol abuse during a "Carnage" event, in Lincoln, eastern England April 27, 2009.

Move over, mother’s little helper. According to a new report from the British charity 4Children, drinking in families with small children could be a large and underreported problem.

The study, titled ‘Over the Limit: The Truth about Families and Alcohol’ found that 19% of parents believed that alcohol, far from being detrimental, actually has a positive effect on their parenting skills; 62% of parents think that their drinking behavior has no impact on their family life. This despite the fact that the same study found that 29% of mothers and 30% of their partners drink more than the recommended units of alcohol per week. What’s more, 5% actually increased their drinking during pregnancy — against the recommendations of most doctors — while 8% continued to drink the same amount as before they became pregnant. Only 9% of parents saw a negative impact of drinking or drug use on their family.

“This report demands that we think again about our relationship with alcohol for our families’ sake,” explained Anne Longfield, 4Children Chief Executive, in the report’s press release. “The statistics speak for themselves with consumption of alcohol known to be a major factor in family crisis – from domestic abuse and family conflict to a breakdown in family relationships and the ability to parent.”

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Although parents may rely on alcohol to deal with the stress associated with caring for small children, reliance on drink can turn into addiction rapidly. According to Addaction, a U.K. drug and alcohol treatment charity, at least 1.3 million British children are living in families where one parent has a drinking problem. Children brought up in an alcohol- or drug-related environment are seven times more likely to become addicted themselves when they grow older. “To help these vulnerable families we need to ensure that a combined commitment is made to provide accurate, timely and accessible alcohol education, advice and information,” said Addaction chief executive, Simon Antrobus, in a press release, “alongside long-term investment in high quality early intervention and support services with families and communities.”

The British beverage industry agreed in March of this year to shed a billion units of alcohol in an attempt to help customers drink within government guidelines. The decision was introduced as part of the government’s Public Health Responsibility Deal — a public-private initiative to improve Britons’ overall health —  which hopes to give consumers a greater choice of lower-strength alcohol products and smaller measures by 2015. “Drinking too much is a major public health issue,” said Sally Davies, Britain’s chief medical officer, in response to the decision publicised in the Department of Health’s press release. “This initiative will help people to continue to enjoy a sensible drink while lowering their [alcohol] consumption.”

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In the U.S., Childhelp.org has found that every year 3.3 million reports of child abuse are made in the U.S., involving nearly 6 million children. As many as two thirds of these cases involve substance abuse to some degree. According to research conducted by the charity, children whose parents abuse alcohol and other drugs are three times more likely to be abused and more than four times more likely to be neglected than children from non-abuse households. They also found that two-thirds of people in treatment come from households with a history of alcohol and drug addiction.

Sally Russell, the founder of the British parenting advice site Netmums, remains positive. “Getting this right would make an enormous difference to the lives of children in the families affected,” she said as quoted in the 4Children report, “and make substantial inroads into the ending the devastating emotional and economic effects of substance abuse.”

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