Strive to Be Happy

Strive to be happy, how this simple statement has fascinated me for over twenty years. The final line of The Desiderata, these 4 simple words have made me think about my attitude to happiness more than anything else in my life. So happiness is not my birthright?  It is not something I had and lost but instead it is something I can earn, I should strive for? Strive, the hardest working verb in the English dictionary; strive is a long way from sit around and wait for it to fall into my lap, or bemoan its lack of solid presence in my life. Strive: what did that mean? And what did I mean by ‘happy’?

These few words began to worm their way into my consciousness, turning on its head my sense of adolescent depression and dissatisfaction, the sense that I didn’t have something I was entitled to, something that everyone else had. That I was somehow bereft, prone as I was to deep bouts of unhappiness. Unhappiness being a lack of happiness, a sense of being hopeless, useless, helpless and angry. Somehow that sense of hopeless anger was challenged by this word strive, enticing me to believe I could do something.  As a fighter I was no stranger to taking on Goliath like battles, but this was different.  It couldn’t be met head on.  My attempts to control my unhappiness by making big gestures didn’t work – I still felt angry and thwarted, hard done by, my experience of happiness in direct correlation to physical outcomes.

And then I began to notice how my behaviour, my response to things that happened, affected how ‘happy’ I felt. That somehow, if I let go of the outcome, I could still experience a sense of joy, of uplift, of possibility, of gratitude…of life as long as I was connected to myself with curiosity and compassion. As long as I was connected to everybody else.

Somehow instead of being a victim of circumstance, I started to realise I was able to be happy anyway, no matter what. 

This ignited a journey of profound change as I began to realise what I understood to be happiness, and accept that I was deserving of it. Instead of engaging in conflict, I decided to focus on developing a curiosity for how I felt in relation to others, in relation to what happened in my life.  I noted feelings of outrage and hurt and I rejoiced simply in my connection with my own consciousness, with me knowing me.  What happened and what others thought became increasingly important as part of my own developing relationship with myself and less and less about who I actually was.  I was increasingly proud of my courage to learn and grow, I was surprised with my willingness to hear, I laughed aloud at my second nature to reinstall the denial that sought to shield me from the nourishing truth when I thought I had thrown it out, and I dispensed with it again and again, daily clearing my side of the street. I was stubborn! I accepted with great joy my place as a grain of sand on a big wide beach, perfectly shaped to fit, and not more or less than anyone else.  I accepted HP into my life, relieved to only have to manage what I could, my own behaviour borne of my thoughts and feelings, and as truthful and respectful representation of that…what a relief.  I felt held, part of, good enough, curious and most importantly HAPPY as that gave me the faith to take the next step!

This is not a state of Nirvana, though, as I remain as affected by life as anyone else and have had my own trials, and (un)fair share of conflict, sickness and loss darkening my landscape. But within these experiences I have found that I can still connect, I can surrender to help, I can still grow and love, and despite the times of darkness, deep within I do feel happiness.

Interesting easy reading on the subject of happiness:

Illusions by Richard Bach

Hector & the Search for Happiness: Hector’s Journeys 1 by François Lelord and Lorenza Garcia


Why Our Children Are Self Harming ….

Self-harm can take many forms and can result from any number of emotional or personal situations.

For most it is a very secretive, concealed act.

The Statistics

·        Self-harm statistics for the UK show one of the highest rates in Europe: 400 per 100,000 population. It is estimated that one in 12 young people in the UK are believed to have self-harmed at some point in their lives.

·        Many of them use self-harming as a way of communicating because they feel that no one is listening and they also believe that they have no one to turn to.

·        3 in 4 young people don’t know where to turn to talk about self-harm (

·        A third of parents would not seek professional help if their child was self-harming (Source:

·        Almost half GPs feel that they don’t understand young people who self-harm and their motivations (Source:

·        2 in 3 teachers don’t know what to say to young people who self-harm (Source:

While studies show that some chronic self-injurers tend to get better without therapy, many people really need professional help to open themselves to new ways of being in the world and with stress.(Source:Cornell Research Program on Self-Injury and Recovery)

The Reasons for Self-Harming – Mind , the UK Mental Health Charity

To express something that is hard to put into words

To make experiences, thoughts or feelings that feel invisible into something visible

To change emotional pain into physical pain

To reduce overwhelming emotional feelings or thoughts

To have a sense of being in control

To escape traumatic memories

To stop feeling numb, disconnected or dissociated (see dissociative disorders)

To create a reason to physically care for yourself

To express suicidal feelings and thoughts without taking your own life

To communicate to other people that you are experiencing severe distress


A Parent’s Viewpoint

Ten years ago, when my son was 13 years old he started cutting himself. Looking back I did not handle the situation well at all. On hearing the term “self-harm” for the first time, I remember thinking “Isn’t that what the Opus Dei monks do?”, (as in those monks who engage in self-flagellation in order to punish themselves and because pain made them feel closer to God). Of course, there was nothing remotely connected to Opus Dei or religion about what my son was doing.  Mainly I was angry with him as I could not understand what could possibly make him want to hurt himself, over and over again.

I was also convinced that my son was the only child on the planet engaging in this (well apart from the monks) and so for the next four years he and I battled – covertly – for his survival. My son took self-harming to beyond cutting; he would stop eating for days on end, he hung out with “friends” who bullied him, he got into alcohol, drugs and as he got older, he engaged in a string of abusive relationships.

All of this served to perpetuate his idea that he needed to feel pain (physical and emotional) in order to feel something, to have control and to release the anger that silently raged within him.

 A Child’s Viewpoint

“Cutting was a release, not of huge amounts of rage (although I’m still waiting for that to surface) but of less noticeable emotion – I did not know how I felt – I did not have the skills to verbalize my experiences and therefore felt very trapped in my body.  I often felt as if I was sitting in a wooden box, I could see out of little gaps in the wood work but people couldn’t see in.  At least when I cut myself I could see the evidence of my being alive….the rest of the time I really did not care if I lived or died.”

“The secrecy of being in a room of people and knowing that underneath your clothes there are burns from lighters, cigarettes and matches which are an aesthetic to the internal pain, trauma and shame I feel about myself.

I am like the junkie who shoots up down a dark side-alley but instead I am applying the 8th burn to my arm because I can feel the dark shadow of panic/shame overcoming me and I won’t make it home if I don’t get this hit.”


So what do you do if your child is self-harming?

Mandy Saligari, founder and director of Charter Harley Street, explains that “Self-harm is a pattern of behaviours that, like so many addictive patterns and dysfunctional coping mechanisms, can be hidden in plain view, even in those as young as 6 or 7 yrs. old. It is often the first sign of a problem which left unaddressed frequently develops into an eating disorder or drug and alcohol addiction”

Do not ignore the signs.  If you feel out of your depth and if find that you cannot deal with the way your child is behaving, Mandy Saligari strongly suggests that “you seek support from a child and adolescent psychotherapist or an EMDR therapist who specialises in working with children. Trying to deal with it yourself and failing can generate negative emotions, making the child feel even more hopeless and the parent feel useless.

Both will foster resentment, which in turn drives the urge to self-harm – a vicious circle”

Philip Andrews, (Psychotherapist – EMDR Europe Accredited Consultant) believes that, “Trauma often leaves people feeling numb and depressed. Self-harm can allow them to literally feel for a short time, so as a short term solution it becomes addictive”.


The light at the end of the tunnel…

It is important to remember that self-harm is not a phase someone is going through or a fad but rather a coping mechanismfor depression, stress and anxiety.

There is no quick fix but over time with supportive care and attention, new ways of coping can replace the need to self-harm.  



About Charter Harley Street: Discover the Power of Charter Harley Street

London’s leading private outpatient facility for Trauma, Addiction and Mental Health. www.charterharley


About Mandy Saligari: Founder and Clinical Director, Charter Harley Street

Mandy is a well-respected established expert in the field of addiction, parenting and relationships.Born from her passion for helping people overcome addictive behaviour, Mandy founded Charter Harley Street to address the market need for a common sense approach to recovery; one that delivers recovery for life and is underpinned by humility, gratitude and hope.




I have been thinking a lot about time recently…

Not just because of the time of year poignant with memories and expectation, triggered by twinkling lights and cold dark nights, but so much has happened too that has reminded me of who I have been and who I am now.  

Just over a week ago I gave a day of lectures on addiction at my old school where I was bullied and it all began. That really was a day of reckoning as I went back to my painful teenage years and finally perhaps collected Mandy as I spoke truthfully and with compassion about her journey. The school has changed so much and I was grateful for the care and interest I received that day.  Maybe too the sad death of the great Nelson Mandela, reminding me of the urgent anti-apartheid marches of my youth and cold nights spent on the pavement outside the South African embassy stirred memories deep within of youthful passion and dreams of revolution. What a wonderful and exceptional man reminding us all of the power of forgiveness and peace… and perhaps its because I had an accident on Thursday, hitting black ice and writing my car off. My first ever car accident and what they say is strangely true as time slowed to a surreal pace where I could place my hand on my son’s leg, and reassure him that we were skidding on ice and we’d be ok. We are, thankfully, though the car is not. The following day heralded my mother’s 80th birthday, and we spent an evening indulging in nostalgia prompted by old photographs and family stories.  Not once that night did she say ‘don’t worry about me!’ as she uncharacteristically welcomed the congratulations and spoiling that she was due. 

And so I sit here on a Sunday night, my family asleep in their beds and me poised for another week of doing what I love, feeling so very grateful for the simple truth of the promises of recovery : that I can indeed be present and grateful for every moment of my life that I choose to be (until my train is late again that is, and I am stuck outside London Bridge once more, listening to the apologetic excuses from British Rail as the day ticks on..tick-tock..… but yes, that’s pure projection…they might indeed surprise me yet!)

International Animal Rescue Event

I was incredibly proud to be included on the fundraising committee for International Animal Rescue which culminated in a glittering event last week with guest speaker Buzz Aldrin at George in Mayfair. We raised lots of funds for a great cause, thank you to those who kindly donated and well done all!

International Animal Rescue is hands on, just like Charter’s method of treatment, they don’t pussy foot around but do what’s required on the ground – an attitude I wholeheartedly support.

Sure there must be time to reflect and consider – you will totally misunderstand me if you think I am as impulsive as I look! – but there must also be a time to act.  That scene in Monty Python’s Life of Brian where they have a meeting about a meeting always makes me laugh as does the moment in ‘The Gods Must Be Crazy’ (wonderful B movie from late ‘70s) when everyone has to ‘look busy’ in the office.  We are all too good at justified prevarication reinforced by bureaucratic accountability and in this sadly I think we often lose the moment of opportunity.

It is in this moment that I think charities such as IAR or our therapeutic approach at Charter really works. We capitalise on that moment.

At Charter its all about what’s happening right now and therefore what do you do/want to do. So often people want to talk about their father/mother/childhood etc., about what happened back then, but actually I believe the action lies in ‘[therefore] how are you now’ – it lies in taking the risk to actually be there with them right then. Almost a counter therapy stance where there is very little interpretation.

I enjoyed chatting with Bill Bailey enormously, and with Buzz Aldrin, and enjoyed several other conversations about the vital importance of a culture of kindness with boundaries, which inevitably led over and again to the subject of addiction…how does that happen?!




Legal Highs

So pleased to note that Reading Festival banned Legal Highs from their festival over the weekend.

Legal Highs pose a particular kind of problem that to me signals exactly why drugs should maintain an identity in terms of the law. The lack of any kind of legal identification paradoxically indicates safety – ie these are ok as they are no illegal. Yet these substances, clearly identified as ‘not for human consumption’ are made with poisons and toxic substances that are completely unregulated and unidentified exposing the curious teen to life threatening experimentation in the name of a good time and rock ‘n’ roll; particularly when mixed with alcohol.

People need proper education around drugs so they know what risks they are taking, and the proper support available when they run into difficulty.  They also need to recognise difficulty when it happens; sounds strange but it’s true.  An aspect of Addiction is denial; so knowing you have a problem is genuinely hard. The role of the justice system should be to provide support by maintaining a legal line in the sand for those who abuse the system.

How many more deaths need to occur before we take action and follow Reading’s example?

Depression is not about sadness

This is what Ruby Wax stated this morning on Radio 4 and it caught my attention, as I agree. Too often the word depressed is used to describe low mood of all kinds confusing its definition with experience of our humanness, so we have forgotten what depression really is.

With a 23% increase in anti depressant prescriptions between 2010-2012 it seems even the professional population may have forgotten too, as a culture of prescribed pill popping has developed in part I believe because our tolerance and understanding is not there for our own emotional processes and experience  – the fear, loss, sadness and anger.

With a severe recession affecting almost everyone in the country, job security is at a low, job prospects are bleak and unhappiness, anger, fear and disappointment thrive. People can feel too under pressure and ill equipped to deal with these kinds of feelings instead seeking advice from the GP. The GP has 10 minutes and as Ruby Wax also suggested this morning, should use that time to refer to someone who is qualified to diagnose. Because a course of anti depressants may not be the best course of treatment; it may also be a step towards learned helplessness.

I see it in my work treating addiction where people will have long histories of ‘depression’ alongside increasingly complex self destructive patterns where they have tried to manage their emotions and usually failed so that they end up in my office still looking for answers. With almost all of these people treatment or intensive counselling usually provides the compassion, stability and tools required to stop the self destructive behaviours and develop different ways of managing their humanness. It can also lead to a medication review and either appropriate ongoing medication or coming off the antidepressants entirely.

The more we can talk about depression and other mental health disorders such as addiction the more we can properly define and therefore better understand them. These are not vagaries born of a self indulgent population, these are real conditions warranting targeted treatment and well deserved successful outcomes.

With 1/5 of us struggling to cope with our feelings, and the county enjoying the biggest baby boom in 40 years,  it’s about time we made emotional intelligence a priority so that we are educating for a healthy future.

After all, we reap what we sow.

International Animal Rescue (IAR)

A few months ago I was having coffee with my great friend and colleague Caroline Curtis Dolby to discuss a client referral, and out of the blue she began talking with real passion, and compassion, about animal cruelty, about the agony of dancing bears in India.  She didn’t give me horror stories, but she sailed close enough to that wind to give me a picture.  What she focused on was the rescues. This was a story of success, of change, of going up against the system and winning.  For the rescue wasn’t only of the poor unfortunate bear, but of the family who made it dance to earn the money to survive. The rescue was of beast and man.

Then out of the blue she asked me if I would join the committee to raise funds for International Animal Rescue (IAR).

Was she crazy? I am one of the busiest people I know and my life is timetabled to a ‘t’ …where would I find the time? Yet here I was at the beginning of a long clinical day and with 2 hours of commuting already behind me, captivated. I leant forwards as she spoke, feeling drawn to this cause driven by International Animal Rescue, a charity with the simple integrity of doing exactly what it name says – it rescues animals from suffering across the globe.

Here are just three examples of where they make a difference in the words of IAR CEO and founder, Alan Knight, OBE: 

“Dancing Bears – In the past 10 years we have helped with the rescue of over 600 sloth bears that were ‘danced’ cruelly on the streets of India.  As a result International Animal Rescue (IAR) and its partners have effectively ended this activity in India and the bears now reside happily in three spacious sanctuaries.   Through our retraining programme many of those human individuals responsible for bear dancing have now been retrained and employed in different occupations.

Orangutans – Largely due to aggressive deforestation and the palm oil industry orangutans are losing their habitat at an alarming rate.  In January, this year IAR opened its brand new orangutan rescue and conservation centre in West Borneo, Indonesia to provide facilities for displaced orangutans.  IAR has so far rescued over 80 orangutans with a number being translocated to protected habitats in other parts of West Borneo.

Our aim is to ensure that (where possible) all our orangutans are able to explore and enjoy the forest and that they are not confined to cages – with many animals eventually being released back into conserved forest areas.    Despite the creation of our new centre we still need more space for the adult orangutans.   Our plan is to create ‘island’ spaces for the adults and we will be purchasing more land later this year.

Dogs and Cats – IAR not only works with wild animals but also has an extremely successful clinic (Animal Tracks) for dogs and cats in Goa which treats literally thousands of animals each year.  The focus of the project is on reducing the numbers of stray dogs and cats through a humane programme of sterilisation.  However, the clinic has become so successful it is now a major veterinary centre for all animals in the north Goa region.   In fact, IAR works with highly experienced vets on all its projects often flying in veterinary experts where necessary, from other countries, to treat specific conditions such as dentistry for bears and surgery on limbs for orangutans.

These are just some of our projects.  And yet, however accurate our name is in describing our work rescuing animals it is far from the full story.  It would be short-sighted of us to respond to cases of animals in desperate need without working to address the underlying causes.  And time and again the suffering and neglect we encounter are routed in ignorance and fear, rather than acts of deliberate cruelty.  For this reason, the educational work we carry out at home and abroad is absolutely vital if we are to bring about a lasting change in attitudes to animals and to the environment as a whole.

Our work is limited only by our resources.

I know that cruelty and ignorance beget cruelty, and that man can become desensitised to suffering through his own experience of trauma and neglect. But knowing this does not increase my tolerance.  I cannot abide cruelty of any kind, but cruelty inflicted on the helpless and the vulnerable is a kind of cruelty that truly raises my blood.  Some might say that I am motivated to save others as I need (or needed) to save myself. But, with the help and support of the many wonderful people whose paths have crossed mine, I have already saved myself. Now I want to make a difference because it’s the right thing to do.

Cruelty to animals and children is the worst kind of cruelty, and I personally believe they are connected.  Charities and organisations that are proactive about promoting sustainable change around cruelty of any kind desperately need and deserve our support.

So I now meet regularly with a group of inspirational and generous people on the IAR fundraising committee to organize a glittering event in early September to raise funds for this valid and worthy cause. I am hoping it will be the first of many…

I have included below their website where you can make a donation, as well as links to some powerful footage of the great work IAR does, setting animals free from cruelty and providing people the training to do something productive.

Please support them and be part of the solution. If I can afford the time, believe me, so can you!

Website for further information:

Self Harm

Self harm is a pattern of behaviour that, like so many addictive patterns and dysfunctional coping mechanisms, can be hidden in plain view, even in those as young as under 10 yrs old. Here are some important early warning signs, behaviours and influences that may help you catch it sooner and in a way that is helpful to you and your child. 

There is always a danger of a child being out of their depth when they are driven by emotion, as the self-regulation function is out of register. So for example when someone is angry they will have elevated levels of adrenaline and noradrenalin in their system, which inhibits the experience of pain. So when they are e.g. cutting themselves they may well cut too deep as they simply do not feel it. Its incredibly important to accept a child’s emotional expression, even if it feels too much or out of order.  A child will earn quickly if you help them manage their experience and expression of these emotions respectfully and with boundaries.

If your child is cutting or burning, seek medical help for the wounds; if you feel out of your depth and that you cannot deal with the way your child is behaving then seek support from a child and adolescent psychotherapist (one with integrative arts training is particularly effective for less invasive intervention and assessment) or an EMDR therapist who specialises in working with children. You can also seek support for yourself from an addiction specialist. Trying to deal with it yourself and failing can generate negative emotions, making the child feel even more hopeless and the parent feel useless. Both will foster resentment, which in turn drives the urge to self-harm – a vicious circle.

Please note a child can also self harm by inviting and provoking physical assault from siblings or parents. It is a way to indirectly ventilate emotion, such as anger or hurt, by making another person responsible. If your child (or indeed any member of your family) is perpetually making you want to rage at them or hit them, then they may be using you as a conduit to express their own pain. The acting out is simply a purging of the overwhelm and will not deal with the problem. So the parent who feels ‘better’ after screaming is describing the feeling of empty before inevitably ‘filling up ‘ again. The answer is to treat the pattern as a clue to a hidden issue that if dealt with appropriately can be treated. Again EMDR is particularly effective as a brief and non-invasive trauma intervention. It works with an ‘unconscious’ part of the brain, and can bring about significant changes for a person in terms of how they manage mood and memories, in a relatively short period of time.  Highly effective for children as they don’t need to be able to talk well to get well.

I think we need to keep in mind how much pressure children are under to perform in today’s globally competitive world. They are competing physically, mentally, socially, practically…. And children are very quick to criticise and shame one another, and have access to multiple ways to put themselves up by putting another person down. (i.e. bullying, cyber bullying). The impact of negative attention can spread widely and quickly, alienating and scapegoating a child almost overnight. Children know this and are keen to remain ‘in’ with one another, placing them on high alert about what they wear, look like – weight, size, fashion sense, ability, image, spots, hair growth, etc.

Constant exams and testing places them under strain to pass but doesn’t introduce a concept of in-depth learning and consideration, so they are culturally encouraged to skim the surface – by implication, this does not teach them how to cope with deeper emotions. I often meet children who think they are ridiculous and over sensitive for having certain emotional needs or experiences, yet on further exploration I will often find they are displaying and experiencing a ‘normal’ level of affect.

I believe that many children are left to their own devices too much and do not have what I would consider to be a consistent model of a ‘good enough parent’ – providing the temporary regulation, a respectful guide, in a consistent way of a parent who is in good shape themselves. Many parents are over stretched and as a result either the child ends up taking care of the parent (not needing or wanting anything from them) or they sadly neglect the child’s core needs believing that to simply feed them, have a laugh and get them to school is enough. Children’s brains are not fully developed until the end of the teen years so until then they require guidance (decreasing as they get older) from someone they can trust and respect – pie in the sky?

I have met countless children in the middle class demographic, who when they experience profound emotion will seek ways to cope with it that are self-sufficient and appear to be short term. (ie hitting self when angry, punching self, banging head against a wall, scratching, cutting, burning, starving) and their families know they do it have not taken it seriously, often coping with it by making a joke of how sensitive the child is, perhaps in the hope that it will simply ‘go away’. But in my experience these things often graduate into eating disorders, codependence (needy giving), and alcohol and drug abuse and misuse. It is a visible part of the addictive cycle that is awash in today’s culture and it should be dealt with seriously at an early age when there is an opportunity for effective and brief intervention.


Mandy and Professor David Nutt Discuss UK Drug Policy

Good Morning Wales, with presenters Oliver Hides and Bethan Rhys Roberts have had a specialised set of programmes focusing on Drug Policy in Wales and the UK.

Friday saw the series conclude with an outside broadcast and a discussion about UK wide drug policy with Mandy Saligari and Professor David Nutt taking part.

Listen to the interview click link :  BBC Radio


ACOA is an anachronism for Adult Children of Alcoholics. Nowadays you can replace ‘Alcoholics’ for ‘Addicts’ to include children from families suffering from any addiction – the impact is the same.

Guilty fury, self-sufficiency and insecurity are core characteristics of this condition, developed in the child who grows up in a family where addiction is present. For ‘addiction’ in families, read ‘inconsistent parenting in a culture of persistent low self-esteem and blame, where the parent uses something outside of themselves to prop them up and it causes damage’. Addiction is NOT all about the manifestations, though this is where the attention most often falls, eg drinking or using drugs. Of course in these cases the damages are very clear. But that is not the extent of the addictive condition, simply the most visible.

I believe we need to wake up to the extensive reach addiction has into today’s society. It is a human condition out of whack. It is where emotions and behaviour pitch into the extremes, and more of you out there are addicts than I suspect would admit it. Active denial is fundamental in maintaining an addictive status quo. Denial is minimising, exaggerating, generalising, universalising…making what ‘is’ into something else so it can be overlooked, swept under the carpet. Examples of this are ‘Everybody does it’ ‘its not that bad’ ‘I only did it once’ etc etc.

At the risk of coming across like the anti fun squad (though those of you who know me will KNOW this is about as far from the truth as possible) the way we behave in this society as parents is fostering a culture of neglect, self sufficiency, arrogance, entitlement, grandiosity, low self esteem and self centredness in our children. For example we do not seem to encourage boundaries (life on life’s terms as opposed to life on the child’s terms) as so many parents are too busy so it suits them to leave the child to their own devices, or too afraid to meet their disapproval. Trouble is coming in the form of Adult Children of dysfunctional family environments and until we accept addiction in broader terms sustainable change can never happen.

So it will continue to get worse; we are more likely to continue to scapegoat at the fire-fighting end where addiction looks like drugs and alcohol, introducing measures to mitigate for damages. We are in danger of seeing addiction through these eyes and trying to control this out of control condition. Instead let us move our attention to the broader view, where addiction operates within families in the form of eg sex and love addiction, co-dependence, (childhood relational trauma, all grown up), gambling (maybe ‘fiscally successfully’), exercise, shopping…or better still to educate people around the core characteristics of expectations, isolation, resentment and blame. To wake someone up to the grandiosity of believing they always know best about somebody else; or to the well-oiled victim position that plays their family and friends invisibly like a master puppeteer, so that you feel sorry for them, adopting a position of what you think is compassion, but is actually judgment and enablement.  I could go on.

It is frustrating when I talk to people of influence who still regard addiction as about drugs or alcohol, gambling or work. It is so much more, so deeply entrenched and we as a society are so very blind.

Please note recent article below by Clare Fallon, Sky News Reporter

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics receives more than 4,500 calls a year – many from under 18s who are struggling to cope.

Their youngest ever caller was a five-year-old girl whose alcohol-dependent mother had committed suicide in the bathroom.

Hilary Henriques, one of the founders of the charity, warns the recession has only made the situation worse with addicts drinking to cope with financial pressure and in turn struggling to fund their alcohol problem.

She said: “Alcoholics who drink don’t choose to drink. Drink is how they get through the day.”

Martin Williams is one of the alcoholic parents the charity has helped.

He describes how his relationship with alcohol became more important that his relationship with his two children.

“They stopped becoming the priority. The drink became the priority. And you try and juggle the two,” he said.

Now though, he has been off the drink for more than three years and says his children are getting their dad back – an improved, sober version.

The most recent figures show around one-fifth of children are living with someone drinking dangerous amounts of alcohol.

According to research, the impact of having an alcoholic parent can be lifelong, with significantly increased chances of developing mental health problems and eating disorders.

Children of alcoholics are also more likely to get into trouble with police and develop a drink problem themselves.

Rosey, 20, has now moved out of home and is studying at university.

While her flatmates enjoy a typical student lifestyle, she does not touch alcohol and says does not think she ever will.

Rosey’s father has been an alcoholic as long as she can remember.

She describes how she never invited school friends back home because she did not what them to meet her “slurring and rocking” dad.

She says she has given up thinking it’s her job to try to help him.

The charity Children of Addicted People and Parents said such situations are common.

Its founding director Emma Spiegler describes the situation faced by many youngsters as “a hell hole with no escape”.

But she insists with help and support children can come through it.

“Together we can help to break the silence, secrecy and stigma young people keep bottled up inside,” she said.

See also: