Comic Relief Plunges Children of Alcoholics into a Welcome Spotlight

bw11Friday the 13th March will certainly be lucky for some, especially a tiny Bristol based charity called Nacoa.

The National Association for Children of Alcoholics have been around for 19 years and calls to their helpline have grown steadily over the years; in 2007 18k, in 2008 36k.

Comic Relief are about to give them a welcome boost of publicity when they air the short film shot in their volunteer helpline room this coming Friday night.

Viewers will hear from Emma Spiegler, a Nacoa Trustee, founder of COAP and once the child of an alcoholic mother (now thankfully now in recovery and doing well). But Emma’s story wasn’t always so happy. She faced many of the typical problems experienced by thousands of children of alcohol dependent parents and often felt very isolated, at times shrouded with guilt that she had somehow been responsible for her mothers drinking, until she found Nacoa.

Hilary Henriques, the charity co-founder is also featured in the film and interviewed in this weeks Radio Times on page 22. She talks reveals the shocking truth about many of the callers to Nacoa, some as young as 7 years old.

It’s hoped that by elevating the profile of children of alcoholics, it will guide a great many of them to Nacoa’s helpline and website which is packed with information on ways they can get support and assistance.

Tracey Smith, also a Trustee and author of The Book of Rubbish Ideas comments, ‘When my mum lost her life to alcohol almost 3 years ago, I knew it was time to do something with my own personal darkness. To have buried it with her would have been a waste. Nacoa exists on a shoestring and I help with media projects that highlight our need for funds and new volunteers.’ Smith donates part of her royalties from the book to Nacoa and is also taking part in The Great North Swim later this year.

It’s hoped that everyone touched by Nacoa’s great work will print off their helpline poster (available on the website) and stick it up in offices, libraries and schools up and down the country.

A (True &) Typical Call to the Helpline – 0800 358 3456

It’s Christmas Day at Nacoa.

Lucy calls the helpline. She is sore, her tummy hurts and she has cuts and bruises.
What bothers her most is she thinks she’s proved she’s ‘bad’. Now everyone will agree with her. Asked why, she tells me because she has no presents and Father Christmas only goes to good children. Lucy is 7 years old.
Lucy knows that grandma sent a gift but its been put away. She doesn’t think she’ll get it. Grandma doesn’t visit any more.

Lucy is cold and crying, not for herself but because she fears the picture she drew of her imaginary friend, a dog called Bruce might be found and torn up. She hides the picture behind the wardrobe and feels a bit better.
We talk about what we can do right now. Being cold is something we can make better. She snuggles up in her blanket with her arms wrapped around, holding on to the phone. She sighs.
I ask ‘What can I do right now? What would you like? Let’s see if we can make a plan for getting through Christmas day’.

She doesn’t ask for presents, she doesn’t ask for parents who love her or even for the present from Grandma. She’s stopped expecting the impossible. She wants a story. She wants me to tell her a story about Bruce. So the story begins ‘Once upon a time there was a dog called Bruce and he lived with his friend Lucy ….’
Her breathing relaxes and she’s more peaceful. She laughs when Bruce slides down a muddy bank. Suddenly a squeal, a sound like doors closing and a rustle of blankets.


Out of breath Lucy whispers into the phone, ‘They’re back. Don’t leave me.’
When her breathing relaxes, we continue with the story. I whisper because she thinks her parents might hear me. Lucy stays under the bed for 47 minutes. Her parents don’t come to her room to see if she’s okay, or hungry or wants the gift from Grandma.

This is the best Lucy can hope for – to be left alone, to find food for herself when they leave the house and to share her thoughts with Nacoa helpline volunteers and her imaginary friend, Bruce the dog.
When the story ends, we make a plan for the rest of the day. Stay warm, rub tummy when it hurts, eat when possible and plan a new story for Bruce.

I tell her she is not bad, she doesn’t deserve to be hurt and we want her to be somewhere safe. All she has to do is to tell us her name and her address or her school and we will contact someone who will help. She’s quiet. Today she says she’ll think about it. I promise I’ll think about a new adventure for her and Bruce.

Lucy knows we’ll be here when she wants to call back. She knows that even if she does not give us the information we need to make a report, we will be here for her. For now the best we can do is to stay with her under the bed or wherever else she needs to know she is not alone, she is not responsible for her parents’ drinking or behaviour and that there are people who care and who she can trust.


Further Information

Figures collated from calls to Nacoa in 2007 reveal there are:-

2.8 M adult children of alcohol-dependent parent in the UK today, and,
920,000 children and young people up to 18 years living in a home in the UK today with one or both parents who have a problem with alcohol.

Although many children of alcohol-dependent parents grow up to be very successful and productive members of society, a number also develop serious problems both as children and later in life as adults. Some of their presenting problems include: –

Drawn to alcoholism themselves
as children 2%
as adults 4%

Considered suicide
as children 9%
as adults 14%

Been in trouble with police
as children 9%
as adults 6%


For interviews and further information ahead of the broadcast, please contact: –

Steph Dowdle
Helpline Coordinator
0117 924 8005

Tracey Smith
Trustee Nacoa
07817 156 391