For those of you who don’t know much about who we are, The Institute for Recovery from Childhood Trauma (IRCT) is a charity whose ambition is to increase the awareness and the understanding of the impact of childhood trauma both during childhood and into adulthood. We are trying to do this to ensure that appropriately informed resources are made available to help those who have suffered and to give all of them the best chance possible of recovery.
So why do we feel the need to speak out during ‘Dry January’? CHILDREN ARE SUFFERING AND ARE AT RISK
Typically, ‘Dry January’ is seen as an opportunity for people to stop drinking for a month to help them recover from the excesses of the Christmas and New Year celebrations. This year those celebrations have been muted by the COVID 19 pandemic but less partying does not appear to have been accompanied by less drinking. Many people reacted to the closure of restaurants and pubs by stocking up to drink at home in isolation and alcohol as well as foodstuffs disappeared from our supermarket shelves. In the week to the 21st March (the beginning of the first lockdown), alcohol sales were up by 67% compared to an increase of 43% for food. (BMJ May 2020) It seems alcohol is being used as a means of coping with the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the pandemic and the accompanying stress.
Things are so difficult we deserve a drink, don’t we?
We are directed to stay home to stay safe but home is not always a safe place to be. As people have had to stay indoors at home, domestic violence cases have surged and 55% of domestic violence incidents have been found to involve alcohol (BMJ May 2020). Alcohol does not cause domestic abuse but it increases the risk of someone perpetrating domestic abuse, or of someone becoming a victim of domestic abuse as well as increasing the severity. There is a complex relationship between stress, alcohol consumption and domestic violence. Stressed, people tend to feel emotionally and physically overwhelmed and many turn to alcohol as a type of self-medication, which research supports. Weerakoon (2020) found that 60% of binge drinkers reported drinking more during COVID-19 lockdowns with the odds of drinking heavily increasing by 19% each added week. This compared with 28% of regular drinkers who also reported an increase.
COVID-19 has caused major economic devastation, disconnected many from community resources and support systems, created widespread uncertainty and panic. Such conditions may stimulate violence in families where it didn’t exist before or worsen situations in homes where mistreatment and violence have been a problem. High stress plus alcohol consumption plus disruption to normal routines make for a perfect storm. Many victims have been unable to get opportunities to make reports to the police but there has been an increase of 12% in third-party referrals from neighbours who have overheard disputes (ONS). There has been a huge increase in calls to helplines of between 60 and 70% but an increase of 700% to one of the online helplines, which was easier to access discretely. (Women’s Aid Survey) Childline received an increase of 36% in calls reporting physical abuse and 31% reporting emotional abuse. In the UK, 14 women and 2 children were murdered in the first three weeks of lockdown, the highest figure in 11 years (WHO).
It is clear that currently children are being exposed to increased levels of domestic abuse leaving them traumatised and with no one to turn to for help as they have been out of school for long periods and the usual community support services and monitoring of their wellbeing have been disrupted. Many are the victims of increased abuse themselves and are specifically vulnerable to abuse during COVID-19. Research shows that increased stress levels among parents are often a major predictor of physical abuse and neglect of children. Stressed parents are more likely to respond to their children’s dependency demands and anxious behaviours in aggressive or abusive ways. There is a clear association between alcohol/drug abuse and child deaths caused by family members. (Reder and Duncan 1999)
We all need to find ways of not turning to alcohol to get us through these hard times not only in January but beyond. For some, this will be relatively easy but for others almost impossible without significant support and help. This is a national crisis and steps need to be taken to address this need or many more children will be left traumatised and at risk.
Reder P & Duncan S – Lost Innocents: a follow-up study of fatal child abuse Routledge 1999
Office for National Statistics (ONS)
World Health Organisation (WHO)