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Rise in parental drug and alcohol misuse since first lockdown

The NSPCC has seen a rapid increase in contacts from members of the public that children are being put at risk as a result of parental drug and alcohol misuse.

Since April 2020, the number of people contacting the children’s charity with concerns about drug and alcohol misuse among parents has risen by 66%. Between January and March 2020, the NSPCC was receiving just over 700 contacts a month from worried adults. However, since the first lockdown began, that number rose to an average of 1,178 contacts a month.

Kam Thandi, Head of NSPCC Helpline says: “At the NSPCC helpline we’ve not only seen a rise in contacts and referrals but we’re also seeing families who weren’t previously known to children’s services requiring help and support for substance misuse.

“The pressures on families at the moment are unprecedented and it is no surprise that our helpline is hearing that parents and carers are struggling with substance misuse. To keep our children safe it’s vital that those who are relying on drugs and alcohol, to the extent that the care of their children is being compromised, must seek help.”

The pandemic and lockdown have resulted in children becoming much more involved in the problems they are facing at home. School closures mean children are unable to socialise or see their friends due to restrictions, resulting in a situation where there is no escape for those living with parental substance misuse.

Prolonged alcohol and drug misuse can lead to mental, psychological and physical illness. Parental drug and alcohol use does not necessarily mean that a child is t risk of abuse, but it does make it more difficult to provide safe and loving care. Potentially, this can lead to abuse or neglect and have a serious impact on a family’s emotional wellbeing.

Signs that families are struggling with parental drug or alcohol misuse include:
- mental and psychological illness
- an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable lifestyle
- domestic abuse
- children taking on caring responsibilities for their parents or siblings
- parents struggling to recognise and meet their children's needs.

The NSPCC says that as the number of families affected by the pandemic continues to rise, it is vital that the government keeps local substance misuse services available during the pandemic. The children’s charity also urges investment in services to help children and families recover from the distress and disruption of this crisis.

Kam Thandi added: “The government must also invest more in local services. Our frontline practitioners have told us that many parents and carers are struggling to access specialist support services which will help them recover from the impact of the pandemic.”

The NSPCC’s concerns are shared by Adfam, a charity which provides support to families affected by drug, alcohol or gambling addiction.

Vivienne Evans OBE, Chief Executive, Adfam, said: “A staggering 88% of the families that we surveyed in our ‘Families in Lockdown’ survey told us that the first lockdown negatively impacted on their family member’s alcohol, drug or gambling problem. A third of families experienced an increase in verbal abuse from their family member and 13% feel more concerned than usual for their safety.

“We know that with the right kind of support, children and young people can navigate this challenging time. We urge families not to wait until breaking point,” she concluded.


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