19/04/2018 16:24 BST | Updated 19/04/2018 16:24 BST

I'm Running The London Marathon For The Children Growing Up, Like Me, With An Alcoholic Parent

Alcoholism is the third leading preventable cause of death in the UK - my dad died aged 61 after a lifetime of heavy drinking

Kirsty O'Connor - PA Images via Getty Images

We have a growing problem with addiction in society. It’s a problem which requires urgent attention.

For too long addiction services have failed to provoke the attention at Westminster they deserve and in our communities they are neglected, too often dismantled. For example my research last year revealed vital alcohol and drug treatment programmes will have been cut by £43million this year, as part of wider cuts to public health budgets.

But when we have a national public health crisis we should be doing more to help those with addiction problems not cutting services.

On latest figures there were over 15,000 hospital admissions with a primary diagnosis of poisoning by illicit drugs – a fifty per cent increase compared to ten years ago. Deaths related to drug misuse are at their highest level since records began. We have some of the highest levels of overdose deaths in Europe.

The numbers of people treated in the first three months of last year in UK Addiction Treatment Centres was more than double that of the same period the previous year.

Essentially just as drug misuse is taking a tragic toll, so too is alcohol.

Figures showed recently there was 1.1million hospital admissions related to alcohol consumption where an alcohol-related disease, injury or condition was the primary reason for hospital admission or a secondary diagnosis and 339,000 admissions for conditions directly caused by alcohol.

Alcoholism is the third leading preventable cause of death in the UK with over 8,000 alcohol-related deaths (around 14 per 100,000 people) on recent figures.

And the mortality rates are highest among people aged 55-64.

I should know. After a lifetime of heavy drinking my dad died aged 61. It’s no age is it, really?

I always knew my dad was a heavy drinker in my heart but on the day he died a friend of his casually described him to me in conversation as an ‘alcoholic.’ Hearing someone else say it out loud for the first time really devastated me.

Of course I was always aware. How could I not be? For much of my teenage years it felt like at times I was looking after him not him looking after me. The times I would come home from school to find a fridge stocked with cheap white wine and cheap lager but no food for tea. Or the time I was picked up from school and he fell over after an afternoon’s drinking. The hours I would spend on my own as a child on a Saturday waiting for him to emerge as he slept off the previous evening’s excesses. ‘Breakfast’ in late afternoon would inevitably involve a glass of ‘dry white wine’.

Or the worst of all the day he boycotted my wedding, worried his drinking would embarrass me in front of my political friends. My ‘posh’ friends as he said.  But he was my dad and it was my wedding, of course I would never have been embarrassed.

I loved my dad and he loved me. I still miss him every day - his dry sense of humour, his idealism and passion for the underdog, his advice and northern common sense. He gave me so much. But sadly, one of those things was a childhood coloured by drinking.

It’s why I’ve made supporting those with an addiction problem a very personal priority of mine as Labour’s shadow Health Secretary.

But my own experiences have taught me that as well as putting in place fully resourced health services for those who suffer addiction problems, we need a level of support for effected families as well.

Having a parent or guardian with addiction problems is one of the most disruptive experiences any child can face. Compared with their peers, children of alcoholics are twice as likely to experience difficulties at school, three times more likely to consider suicide and five times more likely to develop eating disorders.

Worst all of all, children of alcoholics are also four times more likely to become alcoholics themselves.

It is breaking this vicious cycle of alcoholism which drives my determination to stand up for Britain’s young and innocent victims of drink.

On Thursday night I’ll be taking over ex-Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall’s Twitter account to offer my story, outline Labour’s vision for improving addiction services in this country and lead a discussion about the impact of drink and drugs are having on families in society.

 

Many MPs have spoken out about their experiences growing up with an alcoholic parent and I pay tribute to Liam Byrne, Caroline Flint and George Freeman for the extraordinary bravery they have all shown.

Speaking out is never easy, it’s emotional and certainly in my case brings huge feelings of guilt. But by speaking out we have alerted government to a very real issue in society. What’s more I’m pleased the government have listened to some of our concerns. Jeremy Hunt announced earlier this year the government will fund a support helpline for children of alcoholics. It’s only fair that when the government respond like this we praise their commitment and recognise it properly.

But welcome as the government’s commitment is, there is still further to go to fully invest in the addiction services we really need. So as Labour’s shadow Health Secretary I’ve pledged to implement a national strategy to support children of alcoholics and drug users and put in place a nationwide addiction framework too.

On Thursday night I’ll be taking over ex-Everton goalkeeper Neville Southall’s Twitter account to offer my story, outline Labour’s vision for improving addiction services in this country and lead a discussion about the impact of drink and drugs are having on families in society.

And finally this Sunday I’m running the London Marathon again to raise funds for a dedicated charity that helps children of alcoholics – NACOA. They run a helpline to support children of alcoholics. They recently told of how on Christmas Day they comforted seven-year-old Lucy who was hiding under a bed from her alcoholic parents while the helpline volunteers read her fairy tale over the phone. Cold, alone and with no presents, the helpline was the only comfort for that little girl.

So do consider sponsoring me (Jeremy Hunt already has!), by visiting here.

It really would make a tremendous difference to thousands of children growing up with an alcoholic parent.

Jon Ashworth is the shadow health secretary and Labour MP for Leicester South