CHILDREN are the victims of alcohol-related harm in more than one-fifth of Australian households, a study has found, adding weight to calls for the price of alcohol sold in bottle shops to be increased to discourage large quantities being consumed in homes.
Most were harmed by family members or by other relatives, and the rest by the drinking of family friends, neighbours, coaches, religious leaders or others, according to the study published in the latest edition of the international journal Addiction.
The lead author of the study, Anne-Marie Laslett, said children were commonly exposed to heavy drinking by their parents and others at social occasions, and that younger parents tended to drink heavily more often than those who became parents later in life.
''The realities of parenting are that people make a lot of changes to their lives to accommodate having children and do their best, but I don't think we really know as much as we could about how much drinking in private homes and spaces actually affects our children,'' said Professor Laslett, who is a research fellow at the Turning Point Alcohol and Drug Centre at Monash University.
While a study co-authored by Professor Laslett last year, The Range and Magnitude of Alcohol's Harm to Others, found alcohol was a risk factor in about 20,000 cases of child abuse in Australia, she said more studies were needed on drinking and child abuse in the wider population.
''We tend to mainly look at information about kids in the child-protection system who are victims of alcohol abuse, and we stigmatise those groups … but when we look at our own lives, we might find our drinking habits are not necessarily healthy to us or the children around us either.''
Researchers interviewed 1142 parents throughout Australia and found the most common form of harm that occurred to children through others drinking was verbal abuse, including yelling and criticism.
Three per cent of respondents said their children had witnessed domestic violence, while 1 per cent reported their children had suffered physical harm.
''I think we now need more research to find out how the kids are affected, if they suffer long-term and if that could inform policies such as increasing alcohol price, as evidence shows increasing price decreases the amount people drink.''
Director of the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre at UNSW, Michael Farrell, said children could be affected by others' drinking, even in situations that might not be serious enough for child protection agencies to get involved. While alcohol could exacerbate aggression in those with a history of violent behaviour, he said, ''anyone who drinks too much can find themselves acting in an aggressive … manner''.