Contacts to the NSPCC about drug and alcohol misuse among parents soar during the pandemic

Long-term drug and alcohol use by parents is a growing worry for members of the public  concerned that children are being put at risk. 

The number of people contacting us with concerns about drug and alcohol misuse among parents has risen by 66% since April 2020. Between January - March 2020, we were receiving just over 700 contacts a month from worried adults. Since the first lockdown began, however, that number rose to an average of 1,178 contacts a month.

Lockdown changing children's lives

Because of the pandemic, children are much more involved in the problems they are facing at home. School closures and not being able to socialise with their friends means that there is no escape for those living with parental substance misuse.

Drug and alcohol misuse in the home

When parents take drugs, drink or both in large quantities over a long period of time, it can lead to mental, psychological and physical illness. And although this does not necessarily mean that a child will experience abuse, it does make it more difficult to provide safe and loving care. Potentially, this can lead to abuse or neglect and have a serious impact on a family’s emotional wellbeing.


Living with alcoholism - a child's view

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Coco*, now 39, says: “Dad was so funny and a practical joker. He was always playing tricks and making us laugh. His job meant that we moved around a bit and he was offered a really good role abroad so when I was nine we all went to live overseas.

"My first memories of things not being right was while we were living there. He started getting short tempered and things felt a bit different.

“We came back to the UK when I’d just turned 11. Things at home gradually got worse. Dad was drinking more and more and it was causing arguments between my parents. He wasn’t violent but there would be rows.

“It caused overwhelming pain because we knew it wasn’t who he really was. We were so desperate to have our old dad back so it was incredibly painful to watch him fall apart like that. He sadly passed away when I was 19.”


*This is a true story but names have been changed to protect identities and any photographs are posed by models.

Signs of parental substance abuse

Most parents or carers who drink alcohol or use drugs do it in moderation and aren’t a risk to their children but long-term misue is different. Sometimes, signs of the following can show that a family might be struggling and need support:

  • mental and psychological illness
  • an increasingly chaotic and unpredictable lifestyle
  • domestic abuse
  • children taking responsibility for the care of their parents or siblings
  • parents struggling to recognise and meet their children's needs.

What government can do

As the number of families affected by the pandemic continues to rise, it’s vital that the government keeps local substance misuse services available during the pandemic. It must also set out a plan to invest in services to help children and families recover from the distress and disruption of this crisis.

Kam Thandi, Head of NSPCC Helpline says: “At the NSPCC helpline we’ve not only seen a rise in contacts and referrals but we’re also seeing families who weren’t previously known to children’s services requiring help and support for substance misuse.

“The pressures on families at the moment are unprecedented and it is no surprise that our helpline is hearing that parents and carers are struggling with substance misuse. To keep our children safe it’s vital that those who are relying on drugs and alcohol, to the extent that the care of their children is being compromised, must seek help.

“The government must also invest more in local services. Our frontline practitioners have told us that many parents and carers are struggling to access specialist support services which will help them recover from the impact of the pandemic.”



Our concerns are being backed by Adfam, a charity which provides support to families affected by drug, alcohol or gambling addiction.

Vivienne Evans OBE, Chief Executive, Adfam, said: “A staggering 88% of the families that we surveyed in our ‘Families in Lockdown’ survey told us that the first lockdown negatively impacted on their family member’s alcohol, drug or gambling problem. A third of families experienced an increase in verbal abuse from their family member and 13% feel more concerned than usual for their safety.

“We know that with the right kind of support, children and young people can navigate this challenging time. We urge families not to wait until breaking point.”

Support for parents worried about their own substance misuse

If you're concerned that your drug or alcohol use is starting to affect your family, you can get support by: 

  • contacting the NSPCC helpline on 0808 800 5000
  • asking your local GP to arrange support
  • visiting the NHS website for a database of treatment services
  • contacting Alcohol Change UK who can offer online advice online about managing drinking during lockdown.

Support for children worried about their parent’s substance misuse

Children are urged to talk to an adult they trust, or contact:


  1. 1. Before the first national lockdown there was an average of 709 contacts to the NSPCC helpline about parent/adult alcohol/substance misuse a month (based on a 30-day average for 6 Jan – 22 March 2020). Following the first national lockdown the monthly average number of contacts increased to 1,178 (based on the monthly average for 1 April 2020 – 31 January 2021).