Home > Children talk about living with problem drug and alcohol use.

Pike, Brigid (2010) Children talk about living with problem drug and alcohol use. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 34, Summer 2010, pp. 1-2.

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‘She knew not to go near me in the morning ’til I had my foil, then ‘mummy would play’. In the mornings the sickness was the worst … I’d just be telling her to get away. Once I had the gear [drugs] into me I’d be the best mother on the earth.’

These words were spoken by a mother of a four-year-old girl interviewed as part of a research study in Ireland published last year. It is quoted in a new EMCDDA thematic paper on European children’s experiences and perceptions of drug and alcohol issues, published to mark International Children’s Day on 1 June.1

The purpose of the paper is to enhance drug policies and interventions for children and young people by highlighting children’s and young people’s perspectives and their needs. Comprising quotations selected from research studies and governmental and non-governmental reports in 14 EU countries, including Ireland, the thematic paper gives voice to four main issues:

o living with harmful parental drinking or drug taking (neglect, violence, abuse, stigma or shame),
o being separated from parents and looked after by relatives, foster carers or institutions,
o experiences and perceptions of alcohol and drug consumption, and
o experiences and perceptions of interventions to address alcohol and drug consumption.

The authors consulted three Irish sources2 and used quotations from them to highlight issues associated with living with parents engaging in harmful substance use, and children’s and young people’s own experience of substance use. For example, an Irish child care worker is quoted on the effect of living with a parent engaging in harmful substance use:

‘They become adults very young; they’re like the carer to their parent. They actually know, you can see it in them, that they know when their parent isn’t well … it seems to be a constant worry.’

Looking back, a young Irish woman who had been abused by a member of her extended family during her childhood recalled her teenage years:

‘I turned 15 that January, I just went wild then you know after that like. I did have problems at home … Like when I was growing up, that would have been the start of it, but then I just used to go wild you know with the problems and the issues that I did have, I’d end up going drinking and taking drugs, you know, and not having any, no self-respect or anything for myself.’

In concluding the report, the authors make several observations:
o given the complexity and diversity of children’s experiences, correspondingly flexible and holistic interventions need to be developed;
o more qualitative drug and alcohol research is needed if Europe is to understand the real needs of children and young people and to implement fully the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC);
o large numbers of parents with alcohol problems may generate more problems overall for children in the EU than the smaller number of children affected by parents with illicit drug problems;
o the quotations highlight children’s extreme vulnerability, and yet also their desire and capacity to ‘cope’ with difficulties and to make rational judgements about their own situation based on objective information and personal experience;
o while quality care and other drug and alcohol interventions are needed to grant children in the EU their right to ‘harmonious development and protection from harmful influences’, abuse, neglect and exploitation, the root cause for many children facing both drug and alcohol problems are poverty and social exclusion.

1. Olszewski D, Burkhart G and Bo A (2010) Children’s voices: experiences and perceptions of European children on drug and alcohol issues. Thematic paper. Luxembourg: The Publications Office of the European Union. Available at www.emcdda.europa.eu
2. The three Irish research studies used in the EMCDDA thematic paper were Bates T, Illback RJ, Scanlan F and Carroll L (2009) Somewhere to turn to, someone to talk to. Dublin: Headstrong – The National Centre for Youth Mental Health; Mayock P (2000) Choosers or losers: influences on young people’s choices about drugs in inner-city Dublin. Dublin: Children’s Research Centre, TCD; Mayock P and Carr N (2008) Not just homelessness … A study of ‘out of home’ young people in Cork city. Dublin: Children’s Research Centre, TCD. These three research reports are available at www.drugsandalcohol.ie

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
All substances
Issue Title
Issue 34, Summer 2010
Page Range
pp. 1-2
Health Research Board
Issue 34, Summer 2010
Accession Number
HRB (Available)

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