It is likely most readers know someone or they are the someone who has personally experienced alcohol's harm to others | secondhand drinking. The tragedy is we hardly talk about it in ways that can change the lives of those affected -- especially the lives of children. In other words, we hardly talk about it in ways that can prevent, intervene, or treat adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Alcohol’s Harm to Others | Secondhand Drinking and the ACEs Connection
The toxic stress outcomes for a child that are associated with this particular ACE are the result of coping with their family member's drinking behaviors. Drinking behaviors include: verbal, physical, emotional abuse; neglect; blackouts; sexual assault; breaking promises to stop or cut down; shaming, blaming, denying; domestic violence; unpredictable behaviors; alcohol-induced crime; and driving while impaired, to name a few. Drinking behaviors are the result of the chemical and structural brain changes caused by alcohol abuse and the brain mapping around the characteristics of and risk factors for developing alcoholism.
Coping with these drinking behaviors, as a child, can result in that problem drinker or alcoholic causing up to 7 more of the 10 ACEs measured in the original ACE Study. These additional ACEs include: physical, sexual and verbal abuse; physical and emotional neglect; witnessing a mother being abused; or losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason. It is not uncommon for a child growing up with a family member who is a problem drinker or alcoholic to experience at least 3-4 ACEs.
And it's not only the problem drinker or alcoholic's behaviors that affect that child. It is the problem drinker or alcoholic's drinking behavioral affects on every other member in the family, and then the way the other family members interact with the drinker, the child and each other. All of which causes crushing, life-robbing, toxic stress outcomes for all concerned -- especially for the child.
Emerging Research on Alcohol's Harm to Others (AHTO)
The above offers prime examples of alcohol's harm to others | secondhand drinking. These are two terms that identify the very real,quality-of-life, health-harming impacts of a person’s drinking on others.
Secondhand Drinking, for example, is a term I coined in 2009 to raise awareness about the negative impacts a person’s drinking behaviors has on others. Secondhand drinking directly affects an estimated 75 million Americans, including moms, dads, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, grandparents, close friends, boyfriends, girlfriends. It indirectly affects tens of millions more, including co-workers, fellow-students, innocent bystanders – even the tax payers and citizens of a community. And this is just in America!
As such, it is likely most readers know someone or they are the someone who has personally experienced secondhand drinking. The tragedy is we hardly talk about it.
Fortunately, that’s about to change, thanks to several recent studies being conducted around the world on Alcohol’s Harm to Others (AHTO), such as:
- One in New Zealand: “Recently researchers have started to focus on alcohol-related harms to people other than the drinker; described as the ‘collateral damage,’ ‘second-hand effects,’ or ‘negative externalities’ of drinking (Connor and Casswell 2012).”
- One in Australia: “…almost three-quarters of all adults in Australia were negatively affected over a one-year period by someone else’s drinking…. (Laslett et al 2010).”
- One in Five Indian States: “Approximately 83% of respondents reported at least one alcohol-related harm from having a heavy drinker in their lives across domains of physical, sexual, psychological, financial and social harm (Esser et al 2016).”
My hope is this AHTO research expands to incorporate the kinds of harm to others associated with toxic stress because of the ACEs-toxic stress connection and because living with a family member who is a problem drinker or alcoholic can result in a child's ACE score reaching 3 or 4 or even a staggering 8.
To learn more about this AHTO research and other concepts, check out my post on BreakingTheCycles.com, "Alcohol's Harm to Others | Secondhand Drinking."