The hidden costs of adult drinking: Impact on children and society

Publicerat 2024-03-14

When adults drink, they put children at risk. In so many ways.

Adults who are under the influence of alcohol expose children to violence. Adults who have an addiction use the family’s money for alcohol instead of food. Children are forced to take care of themselves, their younger siblings and their parents. They are forced to work instead of going to school.

The children suffer now, but the parents’ addiction has also major lifelong consequences for the children.

All families with addiction are as unique as all other families, and all children in these families are as different as all other children. There are rich families and poor families, families with great social networks and with small ones, families who show lots of love and affection towards each other and families full of anger, hate and violence. So of course, the situation for children in families facing addiction differ greatly. But there are things that many of these children have in common.

  • Many have cared for their parents, cared for home and younger siblings.
  • They are living in an ongoing crisis.
  • Many suffer from psychological and physical abuse.
  • They feel great loneliness and shame.

Even in a rich country like Sweden, with free education and a vast social security net, these children suffer. Children who have a parent with addiction are twice as likely to leave obligatory school without complete final grades, which of course affects the possibilities in their whole lives.

In other countries, children end up living on the street because it is safer than being at home.

How common is the problem?

It is difficult to find accurate numbers in such a stigmatized area. Here are some attempts to frame the vastness of the problem:

In Sweden, about 15% of children are negatively impacted by a parent’s drinking.
In the United States, more than 10% of children live with a parent with alcohol problems.
In EU, 9 million children grow up with parents who have alcohol problems.
In Australia about 1 million children live in households with at least one adult being addicted.

So, this is a problem all around the world. Unfortunately, not much research is being done in poor countries, but these children often suffer more since parents cannot get any treatment, and social security and welfare is lacking as a consequence, children may face challenges on quite another scale than in most western countries.

In Sweden, when I say that every affected child needs to get support, everyone agrees. But when I say that we have to get to the root of the problem, not everybody claps their hands. Because the root, the cause, is that too many adults drink too much alcohol. That requires the whole society to step up. Every adult should look into their habits. That is uncomfortable for many.

On the top of my wish-list is national and international efforts to make it difficult to start using alcohol and other drugs – and easy to stop using them. That would be the best gift for children now and in generations to come.

Mona Örjes

President of Junis.