MP Liam Byrne launches awareness campaign on alcoholism and reflects on how it affected his life in Harlow

Politics / Sun 29th Nov 2015 at 02:38pm

MP Liam Byrne has spoken for the first time about having ‘loved and lost’ his alcoholic father and how millions of children are still being ‘scarred’ for life by the disease.

The Birmingham MP’s father Dermot, 68, died just before the May election and Mr Byrne said it ‘hurts like hell’ to talk about the ‘sheer choking worry’ his drinking caused.

His Harlow council manager father was an alcoholic for most of his adult life and when his son joined the Labour cabinet in 2008 he turned up at his Westminster office but was too drunk to stand.

Mr Byrne today called on the Government to ‘break the cycle of alcoholism’ to stop it ‘cascading’ down on the 2.6million children living with family who drink ‘hazardous’ amounts every day.

The former Labour minister also revealed he was moved to speak out after the death of former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who collapsed and died in July after years of heavy drinking.

He said: ‘This is the first time that I have talked publicly about being the child of an alcoholic.
‘My dad, though, battled with an addiction to alcohol for most of his adult life and when he lost the woman that he loved so passionately, my mother, at the age of 52 to pancreatic cancer it knocked him over the edge,’ he said.

‘I know from first hand experience the damage and the harm that come to families living with an alcoholic. I know what that sense of guilt and shame feels like.

‘I know all too well the feeling that most children of alcoholics have as they kind of wrestle with why they can’t fix things, why they can’t make things better.

‘I know what it feels like to worry constantly about whether your parent is okay. You worry about are they on a floor? Are they eating?

‘I know what it’s like to be at a bedside in an intensive care unit having been told that your parent has maybe got a one in 10 chance of surviving.

‘I know what the agony feels like as you ask yourself constantly whether there was more that you could have done to help stop that drinking. I know that there are no answers to those questions.’

Mr Byrne said he was inspired to join Labour by his father – a general manager at Harlow Council for 20 years – and went on to hold a number of cabinet posts.

During a Westminster Hall debate on alcoholism Mr Byrne told MPs that children of alcoholics are more likely to develop eating disorders, to attempt suicide and to develop an alcohol problem of their own.

He said: ‘I had to honour the boy who became a man who became my dad because there wasn’t any help for my dad when he was growing up as the child of an alcoholic and if I want to change it for children in the future, then I have to play my part in speaking up about this issue.’

Mr Byrne outlined a 10 point plan to improve levels of help and support including a call for frontline professionals to be equipped to take proactive steps to identify children of alcoholics and to advise them on where they can get help.

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