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January 17, 2019 Alcohol Action Ireland Silent Voices
Alcohol Action Ireland launches Silent Voices initiative on impacts of parental alcohol misuse on children

Alcohol Action Ireland has launched a new initiative to raise awareness of the experience of growing up in Ireland with parental alcohol misuse.  Called Silent Voices, it aims to end the silence of this experience, by promoting an understanding of the adverse impacts of parental alcohol misuse on the lives of children, including children who are now adults.  It also plans – through engagement with existing services providers – to secure supports for those who have lived, or are living, with parental alcohol misuse.

The driving force behind Alcohol Action Ireland’s Silent Voices initiative are three women who experienced parental alcohol misuse as children: Carol Fawsitt, Marion Rackard and Barbara Whelan.  Speaking at today’s launch, Carol Fawsitt, who is also Chair of Alcohol Action Ireland, said: “Parental alcohol misuse – and its negative impacts on children – is something that rarely gets an airing or acknowledgement in Irish society.  Many of us – from all walks of life – have grown up under a shadow of alcohol misuse.  The harms and negative impacts of growing up under this shadow can manifest themselves in different ways, but especially at a time of life change, such as a family bereavement, redundancy or pregnancy.  It’s my experience that life change with a backdrop of parental alcohol misuse can take its toll, and services – such as counselling – often don’t recognise the link between parental alcohol misuse and trauma in adult children.

“For adult children, our message is this: if you are experiencing trauma in your life, seek help and don’t be afraid to do so.  It is our experience – as the instigators of Silent Voices – that by seeking help, many latent fears and coping mechanisms adopted in childhood can be addressed with significant personal benefits.”

Alcohol Action Ireland estimates that approximately 400,000 people in Ireland today are adult children from alcohol-impacted families. Recent data from the HSE’s ‘The Untold Story’ indicates that today approximately 200,000 young children are likely experiencing Hidden Harm – living with and impacted by parental alcohol misuse.

The keynote address at the launch was given by BBC News Africa Editor, Fergal Keane, who has written and spoken about his experience of growing up in a household with parental alcohol misuse.  He said: “As someone who experienced parental alcohol misuse while growing up, I am delighted that Alcohol Action Ireland has launched the Silent Voices initiative, which will start a conversation and foster a better understanding of what I believe is a deep societal issue with alcohol.  For those who know the loneliness, the confusion and pain that can come from being the child where parental alcohol misuse is a pattern in their life, Silent Voices will be a vital resource: it will tell people that they are not alone.”

Dr Sharon Lambert from the Department of Applied Psychology at University College Cork said: “Studies have shown that living with a parent who abuses substances can have an adverse impact on a child’s later-life physical and mental health. Misusing alcohol may result in a parent not being able to provide the emotional or physical care required for young children. The worry or anxiety experienced by a child in this situation may result in behavioural or emotional issues, the cause for which teachers and care-givers are unable to identify and therefore may dismiss as bad behaviour rather than recognise that a child is struggling.  Well-informed education and healthcare professionals are vital to buffer the impact of parental problem drinking on children.”

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