Friday, December 7, 2007

Mother, son warn how both struggled with his alcoholism

Toren Volkmann started drinking when he was 14 or 15. By the time he was 22, he was a self-described “full-blown alcoholic” whose life revolved around his next drink.

Yet his parents had no idea of the scope of their son’s addiction.

Toren and his mother, Chris Volkmann, shared the story of their struggle with alcoholism Tuesday at Magna Vista and Bassett high schools, and they will continue to speak in the area today. The presentations were organized by Communities Helping Improve Local Lives (CHILL), a youth task force that encourages teens not to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco.

Like most teenagers, “it wasn’t ever my intention to have any problems with alcohol,” said Toren, now 28. “I just wanted it to be fun.”

A student athlete who did well in school, Toren said he started drinking in high school and soon earned a reputation as a partier. He was brought home by the police more than once for underage drinking and kicked off of four sports teams, but Toren still didn’t think he had a problem. Although his parents grounded him, took away privileges and talked to him about drinking in moderation, they didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation either, Chris said.

The family should have done what Chris tells parents to do every time she shares her story: They should have talked about it more seriously, she said.

Instead, Toren left the family’s home in Olympia, Wash., to go to college in Southern California. There, his drinking only worsened.

“Everything was magnified and intensified” at college, Toren said. “All I was concerned about was drinking.”

Kicked out of the dorms by the end of his freshman year, Toren met with a counselor who told him to attend 10 meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous before he returned to school the next year.

Although he went to two meetings, Toren said, he didn’t really believe he needed to be there.

“I said, ‘My name is Toren and I’m an alcoholic,’” he recalled. “... But I didn’t really know if I believed that. I just wasn’t ready to listen to what they had to say.”

Toren told his parents he was going to the meetings, but Chris didn’t ask him about it.

“I missed the opportunity to talk,” she said.

Despite his drinking problem, Toren graduated from college and entered the Peace Corps. While working in Paraguay, he sometimes went two or three weeks without drinking. But he struggled with withdrawal symptoms, such as sweating and shaking, and he always went back to binge drinking.

Eventually, Toren went to a nurse and asked for help. He was flown back to the United States, where he checked into a 30-day treatment center and spent six months in a halfway house for recovering alcoholics.

Now sober for four years, Toren lives in Portland, Ore. He and Chris travel the country sharing their experiences and talking about the book they wrote together, “From Binge to Blackout.”

As they spoke Tuesday, Chris and Toren shared facts about alcohol and its effects on teenagers.

Among them:

• More than 10 million people in the United States between the ages of 12 and 20 are heavy drinkers.

• Because people’s brains do much of their developing during adolescence, binge drinking is more dangerous for teenagers than it is for adults. Drinking as a teenager can affect the way your brain processes alcohol for the rest of your life.

• Having one family member who is an alcoholic makes a person four times more likely to develop an alcohol problem.

Toren said he knows it is difficult for teenagers to believe alcoholism can affect them. Ten years ago, he might not have listened to a speaker like himself, he said.

But he hopes not all the students are like he was.

“Even if I’m not affecting the kids that are just like me, I might affect 10 to 15 kids who are on the fence,” he said.

source: Martinsville Bulletin

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