Current figures may have underestimated the number of children who may be at risk of harm from parental substance use in the UK. After examining five national surveys, researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Public Health have generated new and possibly more accurate estimates which include measures of binge, hazardous and dependent drinking, illicit drug use and mental health.
Previous UK estimates were that 250-350,000 children live with problem drug users and 780,000 - 1.3 million with problem drinkers. However, the problem, according to the researchers, is that "these estimates are based on drug users in treatment or derive from problem drinking estimates in other countries". The study, funded by Action on Addiction and the Wates Foundation and conducted by Dr Victoria Manning and colleagues at the National Addiction Centre, entailed a secondary analysis of national household surveys that enabled a focus on parenting and substance use. The new figures indicate that approximately 3.4 million children in the UK live with at least one binge drinking parent, 2.6 million with a hazardous drinker and around one million with a parent who uses illicit drugs.
Manning said, "In order to meet the needs of both parental substance misusers and their children, we first need to understand the true nature and scale of the problem. Without knowing the number of potentially at-risk families, we are unable to assist them until they come to the attention of agencies at crisis point".