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Former addict urges parents to say 'yes' to talking about drugs with their teens

It's time to say "yes" to our teenage children by opening up and talking about alcohol and other drug use, according to William C. Moyers, vice president of foundation relations with Hazelden addiction treatment centers.

"We have to talk,'' Moyers told a mixed audience of parents, educators and treatment professionals this week at Project Turnabout in Granite Falls.

Moyers, 51, is a single father who told the story of his own addiction in his 2006 memoir "Broken.'' He authored it 26 years after making the national news for a drunken burglary in New York City as the son of nationally known journalist William Moyers.

A native of Wilmer, Texas, the younger Moyers began experimenting with marijuana and beer in high school at age 17. He didn't begin his journey of recovery until Oct. 12, 1994, when he was 35 years old. Four days previous he had kissed his wife, two young children and a promising career as a journalist with CNN "goodbye" for the sake of his addiction. It led him to the squalor of a crack house in a violent-prone area of Atlanta, Ga., where two sheriff's deputies pulled him away thanks to an intervention by those who loved him.

Moyers said he believes he is among those who have a genetic disposition to addiction. His youthful experimentation with alcohol and other drugs led to a "baffling'' loss of control over his own life.

"No one could explain what I had done, and that's the point. Not all will end up like me, but the point is: They might,'' he said during Tuesday evening's presentation in Granite Falls.

Moyers, who has been with the Minnesota-founded Hazelden addiction treatment centers since 1996, was a special speaker Tuesday at Project Turnabout.

Project Turnabout was founded in the 1970s as a treatment center for drug and alcohol abuse, and for the past several years has also offered the Vanguard program for compulsive gambling. The main campus is in Granite Falls, and other services are offered in Willmar, Redwood Falls and Marshall.

The risks for young people are far greater today than when he started using in 1975, Moyers said.

Marijuana is 10, 20 and 30 times more potent today than 25 years ago. Cocaine is one-half the cost, and is as prevalent in rural areas as urban. Club drugs such as Ecstasy and GHB did not exist 10 years ago, he said.

Sweetened alcoholic beverages tailored for young tastes are everywhere. Madison Avenue has never done a better job of equating alcohol with beautiful women, handsome men and fun.

"We had it easy compared to what our children and our grandchildren, our students and our young people face,'' he said.

If we don't want to talk to young people about drugs, know that others are, he warned. Thanks to the Internet, never has the solicitation been more ubiquitous, according to Moyers. Internet chat rooms extolling marijuana use and online pharmacies hawking drugs are pervasive.

If these aren't reasons to open up and talk frankly to young people about alcohol and drugs, then consider the most important reason. "Our children want us to,'' said Moyers.

He cited Hazelden's Four Generation survey that found that 75 percent of teenagers said they would turn to their parents as their number one source of advice on alcohol and drugs.

Moyers is the father of two sons, ages 18 and 16½, and a daughter about to turn 14 "going on 21.'' He said he speaks openly with all three about drugs. He rewards each on their birthdays with medallions to recognize them for steering clear of alcohol and other drugs.

He also makes it known to them: "If they develop a problem, it's OK to come to me for help.''

Moyers said his parents gave him unconditional love while he was growing up. Dinner time conversations ranged from the war in Vietnam to Watergate and the music of the Beatles and Rolling Stones. Drugs and alcohol were never discussed, even though he later learned that his uncle died at age 39 in 1967 from an overdose of prescription medicine.

Moyers said he can't know whether his life would have been different had the family talked openly about substance use and abuse. He suggested that knowing about the history of addiction in his own family might have mattered.

"We have to take a chance by talking about it,'' he said, while also acknowledging the challenge. Sixty-three percent of the parents surveyed by Hazelden reported that their parents had said "nothing'' to them about their use of alcohol or other drugs.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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