Research into practice

Neil Thompson looks at a review of research
into parental problem drinking and its impact on children’s
behaviour and emotions.

Jo Tunnard has produced a useful short book
that summarises a range of research findings relating to problem
drinking on the part of parents and the effects of this on their

review is published by Research in Practice, a developmental
network geared towards advancing research-based improvements in
policy and practice. The review focuses specifically on
alcohol-related problems rather than drug abuse more broadly, as it
is recognised that there is no single, co-ordinated joint-working
response to alcohol-related problems, unlike that for other drug
misuse services. It relates to research carried out in the UK and
other European countries, as well as Australia and North America,
over the past 20 years.

It is
estimated that just under a million children are living in a family
with a parent who has a drink problem. Overall, such children have
a higher level of behavioural difficulties, school-related problems
and emotional disturbance than other children. The subject matter
is therefore clearly an important one.

important message from the review is that while many children are
adversely affected as a result of parental problem drinking, we
should not assume that all children in such circumstances will
suffer. However, the problems that can be identified

Financial difficulties as a result of money being spent on drink.
Understandably, if a considerable proportion of family income is
being spent on alcohol, this is going to have an effect on family
finances overall.

– An
adverse impact on relationships, both within and outside the
family. Conflicts between parents, between parents and children and
role reversals (children attending to parents’ personal care needs,
for example) are not uncommon.

Antisocial behaviour such as aggression and temper tantrums in
younger children and truancy and offending behaviour in older

Mental health problems such as depression. It is perhaps not
surprising that family tensions can result in psychological

Physical health problems such as headaches and sleep problems.
Foetal alcohol syndrome can occur in extreme cases, resulting in a
range of health problems for the newborn child.

– A
higher likelihood of educational failure and other such problems
within educational settings.

is also a complex relationship between parental problem drinking
and child protection concerns. It should certainly not be assumed
that parental problem drinking necessarily leads to neglect or
other forms of abuse, although studies do suggest that child
protection is a matter to be taken into consideration.

adds up to a worrying picture that suggests that staff working in
children’s services need to be aware of the impact of parental
problem drinking on children and young people in many ways. There
is much here that provides important food for thought.

Indeed, anyone working in this
area of practice would do well to study carefully this review to
develop a fuller picture of the conclusions we can draw from the
research and to consider the implications for practice. While it is
recognised that busy practitioners and managers are unlikely to
have the time to read in-depth research reports, clear and focused
reviews of a range of research studies are to be welcomed, and this
one is certainly a very useful contribution. It is to be hoped that
this publication will be widely used, as it delivers some important
messages that merit our close attention.

– Jo
Tunnard, Parental Problem Drinking and its Impact on
, Research in Practice, ISBN 0-9541834-01,  

Neil Thompson is director, Avenue
Consulting (
) and visiting professor at the University of Liverpool. He is
co-author of Supervision and Leadership Skills, a training
pack published by Learning Curve Publishing.


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