Memorandum by the National Association
for the Children of Alcoholics (AL 10)
This document explains the role and function
of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa)
a charity that was founded to meet the needs of children of alcohol-dependent
parents of all ages. It details the specific problems faced by
these children and the consequences for them that can last throughout
their lives. They are three times as likely to develop an addiction
to alcohol or other drugs themselves and they are three times
as likely to consider suicide both in childhood and later in adulthood.
1. There exists a stigma within society
around alcoholism or any other form of addiction, especially in
the home. Children will often conceal their difficulties and sense
of inferiority. They therefore collude with their parent's secrecy
and denial of problems. As a result these children are neither
recognised nor properly supported. Without help, these children
often repeat the cycle of alcoholism themselves.
2. Nacoa is a registered charity founded
in 1990. It aims to address the problems of children growing up
in homes where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism or a
similar addictive problem. This includes children of alcohol-dependent
parents of all ages, many of whose problems only become apparent
3. Research carried out on behalf of Nacoa
indicates that there are 2.8 million adult children of alcohol-dependent
parents in the United Kingdom and there are currently nearly a
million children living with parental alcoholism.
4. Nacoa's services include a free, confidential,
telephone, letter and email helpline providing information, advice
and ongoing support for children of alcohol-dependent parents
and people concerned for their welfare such as family members,
friends, teachers and other professionals. Nacoa provides a valuable,
non-judgemental service for callers some of whom are as young
as seven years old. They can call as often as they like. Some
develop a relationship with the charity over a number of months
or even years.
5. Nacoa's service includes providing an
empathic listening ear and reading stories to younger callerssomething
which many take for granted as a natural part of a loving childhood.
Since 1990 Nacoa has responded to over 137 000 requests for help.
6. The Nacoa helpline service aims to identify
a caller's motivations and symptoms whilst providing focussed
listening and ongoing support. These children often have issues
with trust. They are often looking for someone who understands
the complexity of parental alcoholism. Using the "alcohol-dependent
family system" as a tool to identify the role(s) adopted
by children, Nacoa provides a safe way for callers to disclose
their problems and fears. Success can be measured by the annual
increase in callssince 2000 calls have increased by 760%.
7. Nacoa's website www.nacoa.org.uk provides
information, advice, personal experiences, training materials,
factual and resource information, research and links to other
organisations. In 2008 there were nearly 79,000 visits to the
8. Many children of alcohol-dependent parents
grow up to be successful and productive members of society. However
as the table at appendix 1 shows a number develop serious problems
both as children and later as adults.
9. There are a number of common problems
in these families. Lack of money occurs when a significant amount
of the household budget is spent on alcohol. This may take priority
over everything else leaving the rest of the family (sometimes
this can be one of the children) to make sure that their basic
needs such as food and clothing are met.
10. Growing up in a family where alcoholism
is an issue can be very confusing. It can be difficult for children
to predict what state of mind their parent(s) will be in when
they get home from school. They might be in a good mood and want
to do something fun, or they may become violent or irrational.
What makes life even more confusing is when the family collude,
tell lies to cover up the truth in order to keep their problems
secret from outside society. Many children feel unable to take
friends home, as they are embarrassed or fearful about their parent's
11. Nacoa's research indicates that the
learned habits of secrecy, manipulation and an inability to identify
one's feelings are twice as likely to be prevalent in a family
struggling with alcoholism. Irrational behaviour is five times
more likely and 89% of adult children claimed that their childhood
home was not a place to be proud of.
12. Many children may not suffer from obvious
forms of abuse but they are often neglected or lack the little
things, which are so crucial to our wellbeing. They may be exposed
to rage, violence and abuse on a daily basis. This becomes part
of the unpredictable and inconsistent environment in which they
13. Some children live in fear. Sometimes
they are simply ignored, deprived of being loved unconditionally.
They may lack care, clothing, food, warmth and being cherished
for who they are. They often feel unwanted. Research indicates
that 70% of these children successfully hide their problems from
the outside world. They cannot ask for helpthey remain
isolated and alone.
14. Nacoa's research shows that aggression
within the family environment is six times more common when one
or both parents suffer from alcoholism. Social Services report
that alcohol is a factor in:
40% domestic violence incidents.
40% child protection cases.
74% child mistreatment cases.
In 50% of these cases, no action
is taken to address the alcoholism of the parent(s).
15. These children may grow up feeling anxious,
depressed, emotionally detached and socially isolated. Some may
have taken on responsibilities within the family, which means
that they do not have time to spend time with their friends, even
if they wanted to. Children may have difficulties making friends,
which can continue into adulthood. These children are frequently
in a self- protective denial of the situation.
16. It is common for these children to feel
they are the problem and that they are to blame. Nacoa's research
indicates that they feel six times more responsible for conflict
in the home and are seven times more likely to try to resolve
arguments within the family.
17. In adulthood some children find themselves
drawn to others who have grown up in similar environments. Research
also identifies a family "trail" with respect to divorce,
finding this is a more likely phenomenon amongst generations of
families affected by alcoholism.
18. When alcoholism is the family secret,
it can be very difficult to talk to anyone outside the home. Talking
to someone is often seen as a betrayal of the parent. This may
lead to the family becoming socially isolated and can have a negative
effect on the way the family functions. There are three unspoken
rules in families struggling with parental alcoholism. They are:
These rules help to preserve the illusion that
the family is functioning well and that nothing is wrong.
19. As the family progressively adapts to
alcoholism, a parallel path develops in family members. Thoughts,
feelings and actions become prescribed and proscribed by the effects
of alcoholism on the family. The family unconsciously adopts rigid
roles as a coping strategy. The family members often become addicted
to their rolesseeing them as essential to survival of the
20. These family roles occur in all troubled
families and occasionally in healthy families in times of stress.
However, in families coping with alcoholism (and the absolute
need for secrecy from the outside world) the roles are more rigidly
fixed and are played with greater intensity, compulsion and delusion.
This work has been adapted from the family systems work of Virginia
Satir, illustrated at Appendix 2.
21. Nacoa exists to highlight the needs
of children growing up in families where parental alcoholism is
an issue. These children are often forgotten even when the addicted
parent is provided with treatment and support. It recommends that
the needs of these children must be addressed as a fundamental
part of alcohol policy within the UK. Early intervention and support
for all members of the family can make a crucial, perhaps life-saving
difference and early intervention can help break the cycle of
22. We believe that teachers and other relevant
professionals such as health visitors, early years and youth workers
are trained to be alert to the signs of alcoholism within families
A child failing to get excited about
an anticipated class trip or event.
A child who acts very differently
during alcohol and drugs education from the way he or she normally
A child gets upset around birthdays
and or holidays.
A child wants time alone with the
teacher or clings to a teacher or aidethis may represent
an effort to secure the nurturing they lack at home.
23. Nacoa also believes that there should
be a concerted effort by all sectors of society to treat alcohol
addiction with the same seriousness as addiction to illegal drugs.
Society's image of the stereotypical alcohol-dependant needs to
be challenged. For instance the Christmas 2008 episode of "EastEnders"
showed a group of alcohol-dependants as "Shakespearean rustics",
functioning as light relief to the meatier drama of the rest of
the programme. These images belie the fact that behind most alcohol-dependants
there are often frightened, lonely and unhappy families.
24. Alcoholism is perceived by many as being
less important than addiction to illegal drugs. Until there is
clear recognition that alcohol is a substance with many of the
same dangers and risks associated with illegal drugs, we believe
that the problems in terms of ill health, anti-social behaviour
and the negative impact on the family will fail to be adequately
NUMBERS OF PEOPLE AFFECTED BY SERIOUS PROBLEMS
|Children of alcohol dependent parents
|In trouble with Police||
TYPICAL ROLES IN A FAMILY AFFECTED BY ALCOHOLISM
||Identifying symptoms||Pay off for individual
||Pay off for family|
|Chemical use||Relief of pain
|Child 1 "Hero"||Inadequacy|
|Child 2 "Scapegoat"||Hurt
|Focus away from Parental Alcoholism||Self-Destruction Addiction
|Child 3 "Lost child"||Loneliness
||Reliefno attention demanded||Social isolation
|Child 4 "Mascot"||Fear