Parental Substance Abuse Devastating For Children

16 May 2014, 05:00 | Updated: 30 March 2016, 13:50

The number of children counselled by ChildLine because their parents were drinking too much or taking drugs more than doubled last year.

The helpline run by the NSPCC says staff carried out 5,323 counselling sessions with children worried about their parents' abuse of drink or drugs - and average of 15 a day, and up from 2,509 the previous year. Most of the children were 12 to 15 years old, although one in ten were of primary school age.  

Last year (2012/13) ChildLine counsellors at bases in Glasgow and Aberdeen carried out 956 counselling sessions with children and young people via telephone, online chat and email who were concerned about parental drug and alcohol abuse.

Many children spoke to ChildLine about living in fear of their parents' anger, with one in six saying they'd been hit by their mum or dad when they were under the influence. Some children spoke of living in dirty and even dangerous surroundings, lacking essentials because money was frittered on alcohol or drugs.

Children told ChildLine they felt helpless and didn't know where to go for help. 19% of young people said the stress of their situation had led to them feeling depressed, self-harming, or having suicidal thoughts.

One teenager, who contacted the Aberdeen ChildLine base, told counsellors: "Things are tense at home, mum is an alcoholic and dad is always stressed. I'm often left at home by myself and I end up crying myself to sleep most nights. My friends are worried about me but I don't want them to get involved."

Another shared her concerns with counsellors in ChildLine Glasgow: "I've missed out on a proper mother daughter relationship. Mum has a drug problem and she tells me that she wishes I’d have never been born. It's all a lot to cope with and it’s affecting everything in my life like my school work and friendships.  I feel like people just don't want to hear my problems."

Current estimates are that 40-60,000 children in Scotland may be affected by problematic parental drug use - with 10-20,000 estimated as living with at least one affected parent. An estimated 36-51,000 children in Scotland are living with and may be at risk from their parents alcohol misuse.

Susan Dobson, ChildLine Service Manager, said: “It’s heart-breaking that so many young people struggle alone because they do not know where to go for help or are unsure of what might happen if they speak to someone. They may fear being taken away from their families by social services and put into care and believe that they are protecting their family by keeping quiet. However, both they and their parents are in danger of suffering physical and psychological harm. So it’s vital that the parents are offered help, and that these children get the protection they need and don’t have to suffer in silence.

Children can contact ChildLine on 0800 1111 or at

Adults with concerns about a child should call the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000. Alternatively, any concerns can be reported directly to the local area where the child lives using a postcode search facility visit