Alcohol and childhood

Sir, – We commend your excellent coverage of the science of adverse childhood experiences in Sheila Wayman's article "Lifelong impact of adverse childhood experiences is a message for us all" (Health + Family, May 4th).

Alcohol Action Ireland are particularly concerned with the adverse childhood experience of problem alcohol use in the home. We know from Irish research that it affects an estimated one in six young people – around 200,000 children and we have been campaigning to raise awareness about the issue in recent years, with our initiative, Silent Voices.

When it comes to the impact of living with problem alcohol use, it can often be difficult to convey how and why living with an alcohol-dependent parent impacts young people’s development.

What your article does is break this down very simply: “They can’t learn when their brains are overloaded with stress hormones.”

Research shows that if we do not help children deal with their adverse childhood experiences, it can greatly increase the likelihood of poor physical and mental health in later life, the cost of this to Ireland is 2 per cent of GDP – about €7 billion annually, as a comprehensive Lancet study has shown.

In the face of all this knowledge, doing nothing is not an option. Ireland must, like our neighbours in Scotland, work towards being an adverse childhood experience-aware nation where all frontline professionals are trained to recognise the effects of trauma and deal with people in a humane and compassionate way. We can introduce programmes such Operation Encompass whereby if police attend the family home they alert the child’s school so that the young person is met with kindness the following day.

In the words of Dr Gabor Mate, diagnoses are descriptions not explanations. We must ask young people what happened to you instead of telling them this is what’s wrong with you. – Yours, etc,

Dr SHEILA

GILHEANY,

CEO,

Alcohol Action Ireland,

Dublin 7.

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