Press releases

Key Press Releases

30.03.12 A better future for families

At least 3.5 million children grow up in drink or drug affected households - 

  • Offspring of addicts seven times more likely to become addict
  • Ministers urged to treat ‘whole family’ to tackle addiction crisis


The Government must harness family-based treatments if it is serious about tackling the UK's addiction epidemic, according to a major new report from one of the country’s top drug treatment charities.

And it warns that failure to back a more ‘holistic’ approach to the treatment of addicts increases the chances of the problems being repeated and passed on to their children.

The report, from drug and alcohol charity Addaction sets out in stark terms the scale of the problem faced by the Government, citing official figures showing that spending on the 120,000 most dysfunctional families, many who have a drug or alcohol problem, is £9billion, or £75,000 per family.

In addition to the huge economic cost, the report highlight the ‘human cost’. More than 350,000 children live with a parent who has a drug problem, 2.6 million children live with a hazardous drinker, and 705,000 with a dependent drinker. In total, the latest figures suggest at least three and half million children in the UK, roughly one quarter of all children, are affected by a family member with an alcohol, or drug problem.

Fifty seven per cent of inquiries into child abuse reveal evidence of parental substance misuse and between 2008 - 2009 nearly 6,500 children were counselled by ChildLine for their parents’ alcohol and drug misuse.

Worryingly, the report found massive problems in the design, consistency and effectiveness of drug and alcohol treatments across the country. Some addicts have to deal with 20 different agencies, including the police, social services, doctors, schools and housing associations.

The report, A BETTER FUTURE FOR FAMILIES: The importance of family-based interventions in tackling drug and alcohol problems, is part of a year-long commission set up by the charity to look at the quality of treatment of addicts.

And its findings about the importance of ‘whole family’ solutions are echoed in the Government’s report on last year’s riots published earlier this week. The Riots panel found that service providers focus too much on individuals and operate in isolation or ‘silos’. And it recommended that providers work together and plan services around families.

The Addaction Commission was chaired by David Burrowes MP, Conservative MP Enfield Southgate. Other commission members included Christian Guy, Policy Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Lisa Harker, Head of the Strategy Unit at NSPCC, Joanna Manning, Programme Manager at The Children's Society and Gracia McGrath OBE, Chief Executive of Chance UK.

The report sets out a series of recommendations aimed at reversing the damage caused by drug and alcohol misuse, including stopping ‘intergenerational addiction’, where the children of addicts are seven more times likely to become an addict themselves.

“Drug and alcohol misuse is a problem which affects many people in the UK. Often these individuals go on to have children whilst still suffering from substance misuse or developing problems after they have had children. In either case it is important to recognise that parental substance misuse is an important issue which needs tackling for the health of the parent as well as for the health and future of their children,” it says.

The report examined six family-based models, including the charity’s own Breaking the Cycle (BtC) project, in Tower Hamlets, Cumbria and Derby. It found that family-based interventions were significantly more successful at reducing drug and alcohol misuse than other programmes.

“The latest NDTMS figures show that 43% of adults exiting treatment in 2010-11 completed treatment having overcome their dependency (Roxburgh, 2011). Latest BtC family-based intervention delivered 53% achieving their treatment goals and in total 76% showed significant progress towards recovery.”

Family-based interventions as well as treating a parent's drug or alcohol problem take into account the needs of an addict's family - helping them with issues such as schooling, employment, parenting, nutrition and health.

Mr Burrowes said: “Traditionally, Government at all levels has looked at the issue of addiction in terms of simply providing treatment for individuals. We have often failed to take account of how the troubles an addicted person face can have a severe and lasting impact on those closest to them, especially those in their care.

“Failing to address the resulting problems in shared family experience has not only impeded our efforts to effectively address the underlying and exacerbating factors encouraging substance abuse in an individual’s life. It has also led to a tragic growth in the number of people addicted as children.

“Those children whose adult relatives are struggling with addiction too often become a part of the destructive inter-generational cycle of drug and alcohol problems within families and communities.”

The report also says that family based programmes are not expensive, with the Breaking the Cycle project costing up to £4,000 per person.

As Lisa, a former addict and BtC participant told the commission, “My priority was to use crack, or heroin, or to drink. I was putting my family last. A meal for my kids was a bag of sweets in front of the television and there was no structure in our lives. With Addaction's help, I've been able to be a proper mum again. I cook proper dinners. We sit and do homework together. Life feels safer and more settled. It's been amazing.”

Pam Webb is Head of Zurich Community Trust, who funded the commission. She said, "The parents I have met through the Breaking the Cycle programme have had one aim, and that has been to overcome their addiction and prioritise the wellbeing of their children. Effective family based interventions to help them are scarce yet they would pay for themselves ten fold in savings to society. More critically, the impact they will have on our future generation is priceless".

Simon Antrobus, Chief Executive of Addaction, said: “For the past year, a panel of experts convened by Addaction has been looking at how best to help families in similar situations to Lisa's. This 'Breaking the Cycle' commission publishes its first report today, making key recommendations for commissioners and policy-makers.

“The Commission recognises that additional work needs to be carried out on this issue, not least ensuring that there is a consistent approach to gathering data, which at the moment is not happening and at best is done on a piecemeal basis. Which is why the three and a half million children affected by drugs and alcohol, might be a massive underestimation.”

Mr Burrowes continued: “We need to ensure every person who works with families has had drug and alcohol training, for example (perhaps surprisingly, this isn’t the case across a wide range of professions – even social work). We also need to better understand the scale of the problem. I suspect that many families who need help are, at the moment, under the radar.

“But all of this means a great deal more than saving money and sorting out the red tape. It means that we can help prevent a next generation of addicts in this country. And it means we will show the families of today’s addicts that we, as a society, care about them and their future.”

The key recommendations are:

  • Government must exploit the benefits provided by family-based interventions.
  • A new standard framework for the collection of data should be developed to quantify the true scale of intergenerational substance misuse accurately.
  • Local health and wellbeing boards must develop strong, effective inter-agency networks as good practice for family-based support.
  • Training on drugs and alcohol should be developed and delivered for all frontline workers, regardless of their sector.
  • Continued contact with families where the parental drug or alcohol problem is critical.
  • Communication and support for service users should be enhanced utilising the opportunities that social networks and the internet provides.
  • The use of new charity and social impact bond funding models should be supported.

For media enquiries, please contact the Addaction Press Office on 020 7017 2747 or 07818 587696






Addaction is the one of the UK’s largest treatment charities. They provide community-based support (as well as residential rehabilitation) and help over 30,000 people each year to overcome problems caused by drugs and alcohol.

The Breaking the Cycle Commission

In 2011, Addaction set up a commission of experts, chaired by David Burrowes MP, to study the impact of family-based interventions and to highlight the wealth of benefits that can be experienced by trying to tackle inter-generational substance misuse head-on.

The report’s findings are supported by in-depth, qualitative interviews with a group of key stakeholders from various sectors in the UK. This group includes Addaction’s own Breaking the Cycle workers, a senior figure from the National Treatment Agency (NTA) and representatives from other drug and alcohol charities. The Commission also interviewed local authorities across England about their own current and prospective approaches to the problem of intergenerational substance misuse.

This evidence has been used to highlight both the strengths and weaknesses of existing family-based interventions, and will serve as a resource from which to improve the models of care available.