Sober for six months, four days - A teen alcoholic tells his story

April 12, 1997

A teen alcoholic tells his story

By Kate Coleman

Staff Writer

He's been sober for six months and four days.

He talks about it, but doesn't want to be identified because he's a senior at a local high school.

He says it took him months to face the fact that he's an alcoholic.

Not every teen who drinks is an alcoholic. But anyone who drinks is more likely to be involved in high-risk, dangerous behavior, according to Tom Mentor, addictions counselor at Washington County Health Department.

Teens are more at risk to develop dependency because of their emotional, as well as physical, immaturity, Mentor says.

The physical dangers of substance abuse are fairly clear-cut. Experts also believe that emotional growth stops when dependence starts, Mentor says. If kids learn that a drink or drug can help boost their self-esteem or self-confidence, and continue to rely on that help, they'll never learn to cope on their own, Mentor adds.


The teen who shared his story for this article is learning to cope without alcohol, but ithasn't been easy.

A February 1996 arrest at 1:50 a.m. for driving under the influence - 70 miles per hour in a 30 mph zone - didn't convince him he has a serious problem.

He cried and says he felt really terrible. He never had been in any trouble, never been pulled over. But the suspension of his driver's license, supervision by a Department of Juvenile Justice probation officer, 9:30 weeknight and 10:30 p.m. weekend curfews and random urine tests and alcohol counseling didn't convince him.

He woke up in the hospital at 5 one morning, having arrived there after his mother called an ambulance. Doctors told him he was an alcoholic.

He told the doctors to shut up.

His lean and strong 17-year-old body was poisoned by alcohol, but he still wasn't convinced.

He says he had a huge awakening while he was a patient in a residential program at a private rehabilitation hospital last June. Even then, he didn't fully accept his disease.

He relapsed and drank about eight times after completing the program. He finally realized last fall he couldn't control his drinking.

He drank one night and felt terrible, thinking, "I can't believe I like this."

But the next day, he found himself planning to drink again.

"I don't regret relapsing. I needed one more time to prove to myself that I had a problem," he says.

His junior year was pretty much blown, his grade point average pulled down too low to get into the colleges he was aiming for.

His life has changed in other ways.

High school is a hard place to stay away from friends and habits.

He attends daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because he doesn't want to forget. As part of his recovery, he has shared his story with Students Against Drunk Driving groups in area schools.

The old thoughts and behaviors come back, but he has learned what his relapse triggers are and how to avoid them.

Somewhat ironically, he says he always was against drunken driving. He doesn't remember leaving the house and driving the night he was picked up. He was in an alcohol-induced blackout.

"I might have killed someone," he says.

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