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24 AUG 2012

Parental heavy drinking: an elephant in the room?

Peter G Booth

Clinical Psychologist and Visiting Profesor, University of Liverpool:

Heavy drinking, by parents who are involved in child care proceedings, is a common problem and the acute and chronic impact on parenting provision can be significant and, at times, catastrophic. The histories of 100 such parents assessed within proceedings reveal complex social, psychological and physical issues that are often related to alcohol.

Alcohol-related input into professional training courses is neither mandatory nor remotely commensurate with the likelihood of coming across a heavy drinker in any post-qualification caseload. On occasions it is completely absent. This training deficit might underlie the commonly encountered dearth of systematic assessment of drinking and related problems within documentation filed at court. Enhanced training would increase the confidence of non-specialist professionals to undertake assessment and intervention, thereby reducing reliance on laboratory testing and onward referral to specialist alcohol services. It would also, in the author’s opinion, be of assistance to magistrates and judges.

In light of targets to reduce the costs and timescale of child care proceedings when alcohol is a major area of concern, improvements in the assessment of parental heavy drinking, a more considered use of laboratory testing and the application of a first step of care are needed from the time of referral.


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