Carrying on an old family tradition Leeds Alcohol Awareness week 2017

Some people might not consider the everyday impact that a glass of wine here or a pint of beer there may have on their relationships. You don’t have to be a problem drinker for drinking to cause problems. Not just for yourself but for your family.  Alcohol Awareness Week runs from November 13-17 and this year the theme is alcohol and families.

Children are easily affected by their parents drinking. Missed trips to a park on Sunday because of a hangover from Saturday night. Perhaps watching their parents arguing after a few drinks. Even just witnessing Mum or Dad reaching for a drink as a “cure” for a bad mood. These are all things that can have an effect on a child or young person and the way in which they see the world.   Bill Owen, Early Intervention and Prevention Manager for Forward Leeds, the alcohol and drug service, reveals more about why this week is so important.

“Alcohol Concern have partnered with ADFAM for 2017. They are using the opportunity to try and start a conversation about problematic alcohol use and how that affects family life and relationships. They are focusing on breaking the cycle of silence and stigma that is all too often experienced by families when there are dependent drinkers involved.

Bill Owen

This is a very laudable aim and one which Forward Leeds are completely supportive of everything that Alcohol Concern and ADFAM are trying to achieve through this awareness campaign.

We are trying to broaden things out a little in Leeds. At Forward Leeds we are well aware of the difficulties and hidden harms that can come along with those who are physically or psychologically dependent upon alcohol. Our Family Plus team work with some of them every day.

We decided to put some of our efforts into reaching those who may not be dependent drinkers but for whom alcohol might still have an impact on their family life and the relationship with their children.

In October 2017 the Institute of Alcohol Studies published a report on non-dependent drinkers and alcohol called Like Sugar for Adults. This report highlights some interesting facts:

  • 29% of parents reported having been drunk in front of their child.
  • 51% of parents reported having been tipsy in front of their child.
  • 29% of parents thought it was ok to get drunk in front their child as long as it did not happen regularly.
  • If a child had seen their parent tipsy or drunk, they were less likely to consider the way their parent drinks alcohol as providing a positive role model for them – regardless of how much their parent usually drunk.

Alcohol can have a significant impact on family life. From my own perspective I recall when I went to visit my cousin once when I was about 18, and we were heading off somewhere. His mum came to the door waving an empty whisky bottle at us and shouting for us to go and get her another bottle of whiskey. It was about midday and she had already finished off one bottle. He looked at her and at first refused before she yelled back at him, telling him that if he didn’t go she would get in the car and drive to the shop and get one herself.

That memory comes back to me when we advise people that in families where someone has a drink problem that they shouldn’t support or facilitate someone else’s drinking. And the reality is that it can be incredibly hard. What could he do – let his drunk mum get in a car and drive to the shop, or go and get a bottle of whiskey for her to continue on drinking?

I also remember how I felt that day – shocked, saddened and a bit stunned to see her like this. However what I felt was nothing compared to how my cousin, her son felt. This had been a problem that had developed over many years and early in my childhood was hidden behind ‘social drinking’ and developed into dependency through my teenage years, but again was often hidden to wider family members. Speaking to him a few years later about his childhood he talked about how he never really felt home was a happy place as he got older and the problems developed and he wanted to get away from home as soon as he got old enough. His parent’s marriage at this point was failing with drink, not the only factor, but certainly a factor in that.

Working with alcohol over many years I have seen more of the impact alcohol can have on families. Whether it is weekend drinkers having too much and not being on hand to take part on family activities, hangovers affecting parenting skills and mood – making parents more passive and more moody and prone to passive behaviours in their parenting such as allowing children watching telly for long periods or spend long periods on gaming consoles.

I can recall professionals, with good incomes, homes and family lives, where drinking binges have led to, “uncharacteristic behaviours” that have basically been incidents of domestic violence. This has in some cases led to splits in families and ended up with criminal charges that threaten careers.

There are also the day to day impacts, where it affects parenting skills, such as getting kids to school on time, their routines, the social networks and in general less functioning home environments. The impact on the kids of what they see and hear through the potential of arguments and disruption in family life, and sometimes kids having to take on more caring activities, whether that be for younger siblings or adults.

The impacts can’t be underestimated, whether it is for the social drinker that likes the occasional few drinks, the heavy binge drinking parent or the family where someone is dependent on alcohol. And as always with alcohol it crosses all spheres and classes of society – it doesn’t discriminate.”

Thanks Bill for being so open with us.

If this has made you consider your own drinking and you want to talk contact Forward Leeds


About betterlivesleeds

Health, social and age-related care services working together to make Leeds the best city for health and wellbeing
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