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Last Updated: Sep 5th, 2006 - 03:20:52

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Parents drink, Suffer the Children
Sep 5, 2006, 03:14, Reviewed by: Dr. Priya Saxena

"It's absolutely true that the children of alcoholics have little knowledge of what normal is. So how can we create our own happy families?"

According to 'Suffer the Children', a new report published today (Monday 4 September) by the Priory, there are currently over 3.6 million adult children of alcoholics (ACOAs) in the UK who bear the emotional, behavioural and cognitive scars that are a direct result of being raised by alcoholic parents.

Journalist Lauren Booth, who was raised in an alcoholic home, said, "After I finished reading 'Suffer the Children' I cried for a long, long time. Aspects of my character, memories from my own childhood and, most startlingly, fears about my own ability to parent were clearly laid out in black and white. It's absolutely true that the children of alcoholics have little knowledge of what normal is. So how can we create our own happy families? Reading this report I recognised in myself traits of the Hero child, having fought to both hide and compensate for my parents' sickness and never ever stopping to see if I was all right. I now realise how many of my personal relationships have been sabotaged in ways described by the Priory report. Finally, I must at last accept that my own relationship with alcohol is unhealthy. In a different way than my parents' addiction, certainly, but unhealthy enough for me to take action today. Adult children of alcoholics have a duty (and a need) to break this cycle of unhappiness and abuse. We can give our own lovely children a better life and better life chances."

Priory addictions expert Dr. Michael Bristow said, "There is a widespread misconception that addiction is all about the addict, that it is solely the addict who suffers from his illness. The reality? Alcoholism affects the adult alcoholic's entire family, particularly the children. One in 25 parents drinks heavily, including those who binge drink, which means that one million British children currently live with parents who have serious alcohol issues. Alcohol abuse is a multigenerational issue - generation after generation, children of alcoholics suffer from and, as adults, frequently perpetrate, destructive family systems that ruin lives."

Abused children, addicted adults

Parental alcohol abuse contributes to child abuse and abused children are at increased risk for becoming alcoholics in adult life and for abusing their offspring. There is also a genetic component to alcoholism that makes children of alcoholics four times more likely to develop alcoholism than those from non-alcoholic homes.

The reported rates of alcohol abuse in physically or sexually abusive families range from 25 to 84 per cent. 55 per cent of family violence occurs in alcoholic homes, incest is twice as likely among daughters and sons of alcoholics than their peers and alcohol is a factor in 90 per cent of child abuse cases. In one study of adult daughters of alcoholics, 31 per cent of respondents experienced physical abuse as children, 19 per cent were victims of sexual abuse and 38 per cent witnessed spousal abuse. These rates are three to four times higher than for women raised in non-alcoholic families.

70 per cent of ACOAs develop patterns of compulsive behaviour around alcohol, drugs, food, sex, work, gambling or spending and they are three to four times more likely to become alcoholics than the general adult population. 50 per cent of ACOAs marry alcoholics.

"Up to five per cent of all adults in the UK, or 2.3 million people aged 20+, are alcoholics," said Dr. Bristow. "While clinicians working with addicted patients have long recognised the distinct problems afflicting ACOAs, the issue has never reached the millions of British children and adults who need to understand and overcome their dysfunctional legacies. The aim of 'Suffer the Children' is to raise awareness of the millions of people whose lives have been shattered by parental alcohol misuse - the children and adult children of alcoholics - and to offer them hope."

"The cycle of alcoholism and abuse can be stopped. Alcohol dependency can be successfully treated at all stages if the person is willing to change. Rehabilitation is a positive, life-changing process that can transform the alcoholic parent and the alcoholic family system," Dr. Bristow said.

- 'Suffer the Children' is a new report published today (Monday 4 September) by the Priory.

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Lauren Booth is available for interview on Sunday 3 September.

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