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My Dad Was an Alcoholic - Why We Must Tackle the UK's Drinking Problem

24/11/2015 22:30 GMT | Updated 24/11/2016 10:12 GMT

I wouldn't be in parliament if it wasn't for the inspiration of my dad. At his best, he was inspiring, charismatic - and hugely idealistic. He inspired me into politics and public service. But for much of his life he battled an addiction to drink. It scarred us as a family, and tragically, just before the election, it cost my dad his life. And that's why I speaking up today.

Today, alcohol harm costs our country £21billion a year. It's the third biggest public health risk after obesity and smoking. It costs the NHS alone £3.5billion.

But behind those big statistics are hundreds of thousands of children. In fact, my small story is just one of the 2.6million stories of children of alcoholics in Britain today. That's one in five children, who all too often suffer and struggle in silence, often at enormous cost to themselves. Children of alcoholics are five times more likely than others to develop an eating disorder.

They're three times more likely to contemplate suicide. And crucially, they're three times more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

So, if we want to stop the curse of alcoholism cascading down the generations, we have to act and act now. Many have talked about their experience of alcoholic parents. The Archbishop of Canterbury, actor Nick Frost, comedian Billy Connolly, dancer Kristina Rihanoff, X-Factor winner Sam Bailey - all have spoken out. All day today, I've had members of the public, journalists and MP's email or text me, to say the two words that NACOA (The National Association of Children of Alcoholics) hear all the time; 'me too'. This is a problem that stretches to every corner of our country.

So, working with a host of amazing charities and campaign groups, today, I called on the government to do three simple things.

First, we need a big plan to help make sure that anyone working with children knows how to spot a child who might be the child of an alcoholic, so they can put help within reach. There is help out there. Like the amazing helpline that is run by the National Association of Children of Alcoholics, who have helped over the years over 200,000 people.

Second, we need public information campaigns aimed at heavy drinking parents, to help them understand the damage that their drinking is doing to their children. No parents wants their child to become an alcoholic, or to end up contemplating suicide. Yet that is the risk that heavy drinking parents are creating for their children.

Third, we have to make sure that the right treatment is in place for parents when they reach for the help to get better. Just one in 20 dependent drinkers are accessing support today. That tells us, that we've got a long, long way to go, putting help in place. And it's needed urgently. When figures show that A&E admissions for alcohol harm are spiralling up across most of England, that tells us that we've got a problem that's getting bigger, not smaller.

What every child of a hazardous drinker needs to know is simple: they need to know that they're not on their own. They need to know that their parents' drinking is not their fault. And they need to know that there is actually very little they can do, to make their parent better.

But, here's the most important thing for me. Perhaps we couldn't change things for our parents. But we can change things for our children. But that means we have to break the silence, sweep away the shame and taboos, and start talking about alcohol addiction just like any other disease. It's time to normalise the conversation.