What's it like caring for a parent with an addiction?

16/11/10

Person with alcoholic drink

Imagine being 10 years old and having to cook, clean, wash-up, help your mum and dad around the house and even put them to bed, all after a day at school.

That's the life of many young carers who are forced to look after parents who have a drink and drugs problem.

The role at home is reversed - you're the parent and mum and dad are your responsibility.

Newsbeat's spoken to a number of leading charities and found that there are now at least 520,000 under 18s living in homes like this all over the UK.

They work as unpaid carers for their parents and have to juggle school exams and, if they can, some sort of social life, as well as looking after their mum and dad who are addicts.

Eighteen-year-old Sarah's from Dundee and she told us her life changed when she was 10 years old.

'Grow up fast'

Both her parents have a problem with booze and drugs. Her dad eventually left home, leaving her to cope with her mum.

She said: "When I was younger I'd worry at school and things like that 'cos I didn't know what was waiting for us when I got home.

"My mum would either be sober and making my tea or whatever, other times she'd be just lying on the sofa being drunk.

There need to be more open forums discussing these issues and teachers also need to be on the lookout for signs
Emma, Children of Addicted Parents and People

"I'd have to do all cleaning and stuff. I had to go grow up fast and was struggling at school.

"There was one teacher who was really nice and she saw I was getting upset at school and falling behind in my work so I told her what was happening at home."

Once Sarah had told someone about her mum's drinking she was put in touch with the Dundee Carers Centre in Scotland.

"Before coming here I always hated sitting in with my mum when she was drunk but I had to because I couldn't leave her. I couldn't go out with my friends because I'd worry about her.

"Once I started going to the Dundee Carers Centre, I was able to do a lot of activities there and not worry about my mum because they would make sure she was OK while I was away."

Look out for signs

Sarah started receiving help and support as a young carer after she was finally acknowledged as being one.

Newsbeat spoke to Emma from the charity Children of Addicted Parents and People (COAP) and she thinks the problem is that a lot of young people don't know they are carers.

She said: "Unless parents who are addicts come forward and admit they have a problem or their children go to their friends house and realise, 'Hold on my mum and dad are not like their mum and dad' most people in this situation don't even realise something is wrong in their home.

Person with alcoholic drink
Image caption There are concerns that many young people aren't recognised as carers

"So it's important people are open and talk about these things more. There needs to be more open forums discussing these issues and teachers also need to be on the lookout for signs."

The National Addiction Centre released statistics showing there are about 3.4 million under 18s in the UK living with at least one binge drinking parent, 2.6 million with what's known as a hazardous drinker and around one million with a parent who uses illegal drugs.

There are concerns from charities like Turning Point, Princes Trust, Barnardos and COAP that many young people are not being recognised as carers and are slipping under the radar of social services.

Emma from COAP said: "There is no way charities and social services can get in touch with young carers unless parents come forward or someone sees there is a problem. The signs are often there we just have to look and listen out for them."

More awareness of young carers is exactly what Sarah wants as well.

She said: "I've spoken to Newsbeat so that people can hear what I've gone through and think, 'That sounds like my life, that sounds like what I do and that sounds like what my mum or dad does. I am a carer and I want to get some help.'

"I was never put in care, I never wanted to be put in care. It's not what everyone wants - most of the time you just want help."