Step-Children and Step-Parents: A Guide to Building a Healthier Household Amidst Alcohol Abuse

Step-mother with arms around step-children
July 7, 2021
|   updated:
November 7, 2023

Alcohol abuse affects more than just the individual — It impacts their loved ones as well. The children of parents dealing with alcohol abuse are more at risk for behavioral problems and developing difficulties themselves. Children are very perceptive and quick to pick up on their caregivers’ unhealthy behaviors, whether they are biological parents or not. For this reason, both parents and step-parents suffering from alcohol abuse should take all measures necessary to prevent relapse and rebuild trust.

Navigating the Step-Parent/Child Relationship

As divorce rates increase, blended families are becoming more and more common. While merging two families can offer additional support and companionship, it may also come with unique challenges. Finding the balance between two parenting styles can take time and may result in stress as a new routine is established. This can significantly impact children, especially if they are adjusting to life with step-siblings. 

Establishing familial bonds doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s important to understand that the dynamic in a blended family may always be different than that in a nuclear family. Despite the difficulty of merging two families, there is still an opportunity for step-parents to establish a healthy relationship with their step-children. Like all relationships, this dynamic requires trust, which must be built over time. Open communication and consistent behavior are essential parts of bonding, and alcohol abuse can cause significant damage to this process.

Step-parents who have broken the trust of their step-children due to alcohol abuse may find it hard to repair their bond, but with enough patience, understanding, and consistency, a positive relationship may be possible again someday. Rebuilding trust requires plenty of time and space, even between parents and their children. Children processing a parent’s past traumatic behaviors experience a wide range of emotions and need to be free to explore their feelings.

The trauma that comes from having a parent or suffering from alcohol abuse often causes anxiety, distrust, and anger. These emotions are to be expected but will likely improve with time. As a step-parent recovering from addiction, it’s vital to admit fault, ensuring no blame is placed on the children. Make it clear to your family that your addiction is not a result of their behavior, and be transparent about the steps you’re taking in your sobriety. By taking ownership of your behavior and demonstrating your sobriety, your loved ones will be more likely to trust you again.

How-To Build a Healthy Household and Mend Relations After Alcohol Abuse

Father playing basketball with young step-son

No two relationships are the same, and rebuilding trust broken by alcohol abuse may look different for everyone. However, some key behaviors can demonstrate your positive intentions and encourage healing in your family.

1. Encourage openness

It’s impossible to rebuild trust without open communication. Learn to express yourself calmly and constructively, and be willing to accept others’ feedback, even when it’s difficult to hear. By allowing your family to share how your excessive drinking has affected them, you’ll be better able to take steps toward repairing trust. Remember that learning to speak openly isn’t always as easy as it seems. It may be beneficial to go to family therapy to learn skills for effective communication and conflict resolution.

2. Be present and supportive

Parents and step-parents suffering from alcohol abuse tend to grow distant from their children. Because of this, those struggling with alcohol abuse may see value in demonstrating a renewed commitment to their families. Show your children that you are interested in them by talking to them about their hobbies, attending important events, and expressing support and encouragement.

3. Join a recovery group

Whether you attend AA meetings or seek the support of another recovery group, establishing a community that will encourage your sobriety and holds you accountable may not only prevent relapse, but it can also give your family peace of mind. Establishing a commitment to regular meetings demonstrates a dedication to your sobriety and can help loved ones trust in the changes you’re making.

4. Accept responsibility

One of the most important steps in improving broken trust is to admit wrongdoing. Talk to your children about your mistakes, and accept full responsibility for your actions. Don’t expect instant forgiveness — Instead, give them plenty of time to process their emotions and trust that it will likely result in an improved relationship over time.

5. Make healthy changes

Remember that learning to trust again isn’t easy, especially in a parent/child relationship. Children depend on their parents to care for them and model healthy behavior, and reestablishing a positive bond will take time. Because of this, step-parents looking to heal trust with their step-children need to be very intentional about demonstrating their sobriety. This may require significant lifestyle changes like avoiding events where alcohol is served, dedicating more time to your family, and engaging in new wellness practices.

For step-parents looking for a way to establish new healthy habits and prove sobriety, Soberlink offers a comprehensive system that documents sobriety in real-time. Using wireless connectivity, Soberlink alcohol monitoring devices are designed for remote use. Pre-determined schedules allow parents the opportunity not to be burdened by random testing, which often interrupts parenting time and increases testing anxiety. Soberlink testing provides consistency with results sent in-real-time to Concerned Parties. Technology like this makes it possible to give loved ones the reassurance they need to support you in your recovery and trust in the changes you've made.


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Blended families are often a wonderful source of love and support for children. Still, the process of merging two families may present some challenges due to differences in parenting styles and routines. While these initial issues are surmountable, the challenges faced in blended families can be exacerbated by a parent dealing with alcohol abuse, resulting in distrust, trauma, and an increased risk of behavioral issues in children. 

For step-parents struggling with alcohol abuse, it’s possible to reestablish a healthy bond with their stepkids by admitting their mistakes, communicating openly, and demonstrating their sobriety. Using accountability tools like Soberlink and making meaningful lifestyle changes can help rebuild damaged relationships with enough time, patience, and understanding. 

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