How Portsmouth council intends to support families tackling alcohol addiction in the city

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ALCOHOLISM can be a hidden addiction, known only to those closest to the sufferer.

So when offering support to children of alcohol dependant parents it is not always obvious to outsiders such as social workers, council services or charities who is in need of help.

And yet many believe that it is these children that will be most affected by the addictions, both physically and mentally.

Within Portsmouth there were 1,141 children living with an alcohol dependent parent and 608 alcoholic adults living with children known to the council between 2014 and 2017.

And across England it is thought that there are currently around 200,000 children living with alcohol dependent parents.

Although Portsmouth City Council has previously provided support through its various family services, a specific programme has now been green lit to identify families affected by alcohol addiction and offer them support and treatment.

After securing £500,000 from Public Health England, as previously reported in The News, a three year programme of tailored structured treatment in a family hub setting will be set up in a joint venture with the Society of St James.

It is expected that the scheme will support 160 families annually - and approximately 240 children - and by adding to what is already available in the city, such as the early help and prevention service, as well as working within maternity units, schools and wider settings, will improve support and the identification of issues.

The programme will incorporate talks, hands-on activities, group activities and one-on-one sessions depending on what is best suited in each case. Families will be encouraged to share experiences and work restoratively together to understand the harms of alcohol dependency on everyone involved.

The council's head of health, Councillor Matthew Winnington, said: 'It will complement the support we already have in place for adults who want to reduce their drinking; provided by the wellbeing service for non-dependent drinkers and the recovery hub for dependent drinkers, and recognises that the harm alcohol causes is much wider than just on the individual drinker.

'I want to thank those who worked hard on the bid to win this funding and look forward to the programme starting and delivering the positive outcomes that we're confident it’s capable of.'

The project comes as part of a national push, backed by £6m of government funding, to identify and tackle alcohol addiction.

For Jo Huey, who grew up with an alcoholic father, the council's plans are a  welcome step forward. She now works as an addiction counsellor in Bournemouth helping others from across the south with similar experiences and to overcome issues rooted in their childhoods.

The 42-year-old said: 'Any funding to provide help like this is amazing.

'I know that there are social workers out there but they aren't just there to deal with children with alcoholics for parents. And it's not always easy to read the signs.

'There wasn't really any support out there when I was a child which is why I am doing what I do now. We weren't offered any support. This is a pretty common trend I see when speaking to people who grew up in an alcoholic household.'

Jo believed that children living with alcohol dependent parents will continue to be affected into adulthood.

'In my experience living with an alcoholic parent or parents leads to lots of mental health issues in the future like PTSD,' she said.

'When your parents are alcoholic life is very unpredictable, very up and down. There's not much stability. You don't know what mood your parents are going to be in, you're treading on eggshells.

'About four years ago my sister became an alcoholic. She's now two years into her recovery. It's amazing how she transformed her life.

'It is quite common to follow in the footsteps of your parent like that. But the important thing to know is that that doesn't have to happen.'

Jo also praised the work of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (Nacoa) which supports thousands of families every year, and she is also a volunteer for. She added: 'Nacoa do amazing work it's frustrating that they didn't get the funding as well.'

MAKING sure that alcohol dependency doesn’t continue to run your family is a key concern for many children of alcoholic parents.

Marie, who grew up in Portsmouth, was adamant she wouldn’t grow up to be like her dad.

‘Our family depicted absolutely everything there is about children with alcoholic parents,’ she said.

‘My dad was not destined to be anything other than an alcoholic, he had a terrible childhood, he was meant to be aggressive. He used to hit my mum a lot and didn’t care that it was in front of us.’

As one of five siblings Marie found that she took on a role as an ‘overachiever’ to compensate for her home life.

She said: ‘Your parents are meant to love you unconditionally. Your self-esteem just goes through the floor when they’re alcohol dependent and you spend your life trying to make up for that. You want attention, want someone to notice you. So I worked really hard at school.

‘I wanted to be nothing like my parents. And yet I followed in the footsteps of my mum and had an abusive partner for a while because of my low self esteem.

‘It wasn’t until I met my husband that I felt safe.’

The 30-year-old, who now lives in Brighton, said that her background spurred her on to achieve her goal of becoming a GP after completing her training at QA Hospital.

‘I’d always wanted to be a doctor, but everyone, including school and my family, had always told me it wasn’t possible,’ she said.

‘And I know that I will be a good mum but I have only just started living the life I want.

‘It’s so hard to know if children are living in an alcoholic household but I think the way forward is just getting more people to talk about it. I didn’t start talking about it until I was in my 20s. The earlier the better because then the healing process can start earlier.’

FOR some the impact of having an alcohol-dependent parent doesn’t diminish once they enter adulthood.

One Portsmouth-born woman explained how she didn’t face her demons until becoming a mother herself. The 45-year-old, who wished to remain anonymous, saw both her mum and dad affected by alcohol.

‘I was always aware that my grandfather was an alcoholic from when he was in the navy,’ she said.

‘My dad escaped him quite early. He didn’t finish his schooling as a result. His dad was very violent. Certainly it goes down the generations. I’m sure it’s why he became alcohol dependent. And because of his habits mum became alcohol dependent as well.

‘In many ways they were quite good parents. But dad would get in a bad temper and it was hard to know if that was alcohol induced. Mum had quite severe mental health from when I was a baby.

‘They both worked but mum did have to finish work because of mental health issues.’

When the mum-of-two addressed her past she realised the impact it had on her.

She said: ‘I didn’t think it was an issue before. I first become aware because of a talk I had at work. Going through the checklist I realised that my parents were alcoholics.

‘When I became a mum myself I got some counselling. Through talking about my childhood I realised I hadn’t had much mothering myself.

‘I felt so mixed up about it. It was largely to do with my mum’s drink problems that she wasn’t around. I was lucky though that I had counselling. I realised that I had a lot more responsibility on me compared to other children.’

Her parents are still alcohol dependent and she has now limited the time she spends with them.

‘They are still completely in denial about it, so it’s impossible to help them.’ she said.

‘You come to the realisation that they are never going to stop.

‘When I had counselling I knew I had to focus on my own children, and make sure it didn’t affect them.

‘For me it continues to be an issue. Even though I have grown up I still have to deal with my parents and their alcoholism.’