Starting up a new family: With substance abuse in the mix


The Brady household made the merging of two families through re-marriage seem easy, with only surface-level issues fixed by the end of the episode. Yet, this bunch never struggled with long-term substance abuse or behavioral treatment issues in a family member. Not every, if any, stepfamilies’ blend so seamlessly just because, “one day this lady, met this fellow …”

Like puzzle pieces that don’t match up

Sometimes, the harmonious connection between single parents is not as easy for a relationship between stepchildren. Everything in the child’s life from daily routine to sleeping arrangements changes and forces them into possibly incongruent situations.

Three main goals to help ease the transition into a new family, proposed by the American Psychological Association, or APA, are:

  • Solidifying financial and living arrangements
  • Resolving feelings and concerns about the previous marriage
  • Anticipating parenting changes and decisions

When beginning a new life as a family, couples find, “Moving into a new home, rather than one of the partner’s prior residences, is advantageous because the new environment becomes ‘their home,’” the APA encourages. Moving into a new residence allows the family to feel more connected to each other as a fresh start for everyone. That being said, the smoothness of the transition depends on each member.

Some children may struggle with substance abuse or behavioral issues that the new parent has never dealt with – which can cause a rift in the family unit.

My stepson is from another planet

It can be difficult walking into a family situation where a teen is in recovery from substance abuse or behavioral issues. The end of treatment is only the beginning of the young person’s journey on the road to recovery.

Helping parents understand substance abuse, Carl E. Pickhardt, Ph.D., breaks down the levels of substance abuse in teens. Regardless of the level of substance abuse in a teen, Pickhardt explains, “Parents must insist on adequate two-way communication with their teenager to determine circumstances of use, choices made, effects experienced, risks taken, and what parents need to have happen now.”
In choosing discipline for these actions and what to do next, parents need to establish, “The role the stepparent will play in raising their new spouse’s children, as well as changes in household rules that may have to be made,” the APA explains. The same can be said when parents are supporting a teenager going through recovery from substance abuse.

Not only are there support groups for teenagers through alcoholic anonymous and narcotics anonymous but parents can attend, “Al-Anon (for those living with an addicted member of the family),” Pickhardt adds and continues that this group, “Can be invaluable, helping [parents] maintain emotional sobriety so they can support their child in constructive, and not enabling, ways.”

The merging of two family units is never easy, with or without substance abuse. A new parent may feel as if their stepchild is from another parent and the stepchild may feel their new parent is out of touch with reality. Building strong communication is the first step toward treatment and a healthy lifestyle.

Continuing treatment for a teenager with substance abuse issues is possible if parents utilize the right resources and acquire the best treatment available. White River Academy provides residential treatment and care for troubled boys from ages 12 to 17. The academy follows a boarding school format, offering guidance through a disciplined education program and instilling character values and comradery via service projects to promote positive growth. For more information about our programs, feel free to call our 24/7 helpline.

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