Nacoa, doing great work for kids with alcoholic parents


Choosing which charities you support is often daunting, in recent years we’ve involved the children to help choose which charities will benefit from what little we can afford to donate. Nacoa aren’t a large or glamorous charity, they don’t benefit from a dedicated PR team that can do blogger outreach but Nacoa do very important work and they’re a charity I’m happy to support.

I came across Nacoa via a friend at my old book group who was volunteering for them at the time, rather than being directly affected by the issue they deal with but once I knew about what they did and the support they give kids and families, it was difficult not to feel moved. I’m sure you’ve probably never heard of Nacoa either, and I’m hear to educate you. The charity kindly offered to do a Q&A with me to explain what they do and how they do it.

Who are Nacoa UK?

Nacoa (the National Association for Children of Alcoholics) is a charity founded in 1990 to address the needs of children growing up in families where one or both parents suffer from alcoholism or a similar addictive problem. As well as conducting research and raising awareness, we operate a free confidential helpline that is open to people of all ages, from all walks of life, to offer support and advice to anybody affected.

How big a problem is alcoholism in parents?

Parental alcoholism is a huge problem. Research consistently shows that approximately 1 in 5 children in the UK are currently living in a household where one or more parent is dealing with alcoholism. Social Services report that alcohol is a factor in 74% of child mistreatment cases and 40% of domestic violence incidents. In the majority of those cases, nothing is ever done to address the alcoholism.

For children of alcoholics, the associated instability in home-life leads to long-term problems: children living with parental alcoholism are 5 times more likely to develop an eating problem, 3 times more likely to consider suicide, and 4 times as likely to develop alcoholism or other addictions themselves.

Is the problem of alcoholism in parents more common in poor areas or sink estates?

We often say that alcoholism is ‘culture blind’: it does not discriminate based on how much you earn, your social status, or where you live. While popular media often portrays alcoholism prevailing from deprivation, we regularly speak to people who are isolated within outwardly prosperous families.

I remember when the Nacoa patron and former newspaper editor, David Yelland, described how ‘all the worst aspects of being an alcoholic paid brilliantly’ during his career as a tabloid bigwig. But all the while it took its toll on his family. Following his recovery and career change, he reflected in his book, The Truth About Leo, that a family’s outward success often imposes on a child the feeling that a family secret should be bolstered to prevent collapse. We see collusion and feelings of stigma replicated from callers spanning the whole spectrum of society.

What sort of work do you do to help kids with alcoholic parents?

Nacoa’s primary service is its free and confidential helpline. We receive over 30,000 requests for help per-year from children of alcoholics of all ages, as well as professionals and concerned others. Callers can remain anonymous, talk about what they want, in their own time, and without judgement or time limits.

Our work is about planning for a more positive future. An opportunity for children and young people to see that the world can be different from the one they’ve always known and that they can, with help, go on to live happy and fulfilled lives and break the cycle of addiction.

How can you get in touch with Nacoa?

Our helpline number is 0800 358 3456 and for general enquiries 0117 924 8005. People seeking support can also email us on Soon we will also be providing an online message board service where users can record their thoughts and share experiences online. Our Twitter handle is @NacoaUK and you can follow our page on Facebook.

How can I help support Nacoa?

Nacoa is funded entirely by voluntary donations. So one of the best ways to support Nacoa is by raising funds and awareness through sponsored events and campaigns. Growing a moustache for a month, raising £60, will pay the phone bill for a week, and a sponsored marathon, raising £800, covers the helpline and its costs for 6 weeks (covering around 3,000 calls). You can find more information about donating on our website.

Our hundred-or-so active volunteers raise awareness either through our Speakers Programme in schools, undergoing the helpline training to answer phones, or providing professional knowledge and skills. So be in touch if you want to undertake the helpline training or get involved with the volunteering team.

If you wish to raise awareness in your community or workplace, we will also be very happy to provide you with posters and leaflets. Our newest publications, Information for Professionals and Information for Teachers are free upon request. Similarly, further information, research and publications can be found on our website:

 What’s going on with the APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group)?

In September 2016, Nacoa is hoping to bring about major policy changes in the UK, through a Parliamentary Campaign for Support for Children of Alcoholics. Alongside Liam Byrne MP, Nacoa has been central in putting forward a package of plans to government suggesting serious changes to how parental alcoholism is approached.

While this will be a long term project so is fluid, the outlined plans can be found on Liam Byrne’s website. Together, we will be able to reach out to the 2.6 million children living in the UK with a parent who drinks too much and let them know that they are not alone and Nacoa is here to help.