Alcohol problems have been rising rapidly during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns in the UK. People who were consuming alcohol heavily before the pandemic have increased their consumption significantly while at home during the pandemic.
At the same time, there have been funding cuts to mental health and addiction services in the country. This is putting children who live in households with alcohol problems at even greater risk of adverse childhood experiences. With no school to escape to they are forced to face their parents’ alcohol problems with low to no support from services.

In the UK alcohol problems have been growing. Meanwhile, there have been cuts to mental health and addiction services. A forgotten harm caused by the growing alcohol problem is the harm caused to children living in households with alcohol problems.

An estimated 2.6 million children or about one in five children in the UK live in a household with alcohol problems, where at least one parent is having an alcohol use disorder.

According to the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on children of alcoholics (CoA):

  • Heavy alcohol use increased in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the UK’s alcohol death rate rising by a record 19% in 2020 compared with 2019.
  • Households who had been buying the most alcohol before lockdown increased their alcohol purchases significantly while confined to their homes.

Despite the rise in alcohol problems mental health services to support people experiencing alcohol use disorders or addiction have been further weakened by additional funding cuts.

  • In 44% of councils, referrals to addiction treatment services are falling – in one council referrals fell by nearly 50% (Solihull).
  • 65% of Local Authorities cut or held flat their funding for Drug and Alcohol Treatment services between 2019 – 2021.
  • 57% of councils do not have a strategy to support children of households with alcohol problems.
  • 29% of Local Authorities said they would either cut or hold flat their budget for alcohol and other drug use problem treatment services into 2022.

[Alcohol problems] went through the roof during lockdown and that was just at the moment when support for children of alcoholics in those families was cut back,” said Liam Byrne, chair, All-Parliamentary group on children of alcoholics, as per Sky News.

That’s a perfect storm that is hitting up to one in five children.”

Liam Byrne, chair, all-parliamentary group on children of alcoholics

School is an escape and a safe space for children who live in households with alcohol problems. Unfortunately, during the pandemic this escape has been denied to children, forcing them to stay and be exposed to their parents’ alcohol problems at home.

When children live in households with alcohol problems they likely face more adverse outcomes later in life. According to Josh Connelly, an ambassador for The National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa UK), these children are:

  • six times more likely to experience domestic violence,
  • three times more likely to consider suicide, and
  • two or three times more likely to go on to have addiction problems themselves.

So when we look at the scale of what happens to these children as they go into their adulthood, we need to act while they’re still young to give them the help and support that they need and deserve,” said Josh Connelly, an ambassador for Nacoa UK, as per Sky News.

Josh Connelly, ambassador, Nacoa UK

There have been massive cuts to alcohol rehab services in England since 2012. Research conducted by King’s College scientists found more than £100m have been cut since services in England were reorganized in 2012. On average, alcohol and other drugs services in England had lost approximately 30% of their budgets since 2013-14, when they were handed over to local authority control.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ 2020 report titled ‘Next Steps for Funding Mental Health Care in England: Prevention‘ makes the case for an additional £43m for children’s alcohol and other drug services and £30m for new buildings and updates to existing ones – also known as capital projects.

The college is warning that cuts made to addiction services since 2013/14 mean the higher numbers of people needing help could miss out on life-saving treatment.

The pandemic has made the situation even more dire. The consequences of increased alcohol problems during the pandemic will be felt for years to come. It is imperative that the UK government increases funding for much-needed alcohol addiction treatment and support services, specifically for children living in households with alcohol problems.

The Department of Health and Social Care has reported that over the next three years the government is allocating £780m to local authorities for substance use disorder treatment and recovery services. They added that, as part of a £7.2m package, the government has funded the National Association for Children of Alcoholic’s helpline expansion.

The work of the APPG on CoA resulted in gaining a commitment from Health Secretary, Sajid Javid. The Secretary of State told a cross-party delegation of the APPG that the government’s new addiction budget ( up to £177 million a year) can be spent by councils on supporting children from households with alcohol problems.

The APPG on CoA Manifesto sets out the 10 key points the Government needs to address to support children from households with alcohol problems and to halt the rise in alcohol problems in the UK:

The Government needs to:

  1. Take responsibility for children of alcoholics.
  2. Create a national strategy for children of alcoholics.
  3. Properly fund local support for children of alcoholics.
  4. Increase availability of support for families battling alcohol problems.
  5. Boost education and awareness for children.
  6. Boost education and training for professionals with a responsibility for children.
  7. Develop a plan to change public attitudes.
  8. Revise the national strategy to tackle alcohol harm to focus on price and availability.
  9. Curtail the promotion of alcohol – especially to children.
  10. Take responsibility for reducing rates of alcohol harm.

Listen to the Alcohol Issues Podcast S2 E3

Alcohol’s Forgotten Social Harm: Children Growing Up In Households With Alcohol Problems


Sky News: “Children at risk: Cuts to alcohol addiction treatment coincide with increase in parents’ heavy drinking