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This article by Fran Ianacone was prepared for the April 12, 2006
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Taming a Teen’s Addiction
`When I was a kid, I thought an alcoholic was a wino. But looking at
me, it’s obvious that any young person, even a model on TV, can have
an addiction," says Chris Beckman, 28. Beckman, a former cast member
of MTV’s Real World: Chicago, is the author of "Clean: A New
Generation Speaks Out." "Alcoholism is cunning, baffling, and
powerful. I don’t have the answers. All I have to share is my
experience, strength, and hope."
Beckman has been clean and sober for five years and counting and is
currently an artist and Ford model living in New York. He tours the
country addressing high school and university students about the
perils of drugs and alcohol. To highlight Alcohol Awareness Month, he
will speak Thursday, April 20, at the Robert Wood Johnson Hamilton
Center for Health and Fitness, sharing personal and hard-won knowledge
of the issues affecting young addicts and their families. Beckman
addresses issues including genetics, family history, denial,
treatment, 12-step programs, relapse, therapy, and self-care.
After completing a 28-day detox program in his hometown of Boston,
Beckman spent his early days of sobriety under the watchful eyes of
millions of MTV viewers, who tuned in every week to see if he were
still on the wagon. And because of that notoriety, teens listen to
what he has to say.
Beckman, whose father is an alcoholic and whose mother worked to
support him and his younger sister, started drinking whisky at age 11
and smoking marijuana at 13. By the time he entered a rehabilitation
program at age 22, he was habitually using meth, psychedelic
mushrooms, straight vodka and in his own estimation, "whatever else I
could get my hands on."
What began as getting drunk on the weekend turned into a daily ritual
and eventually a nightmare. "The biggest problem for me," says
Beckman, who is openly gay, "was that I was isolated from the world.
Not being able to talk about my problems was a big part of my
addiction. It’s very important for teens to learn how to network with
friends they can trust and discuss problems with. That’s why in
"Clean" we’ve included online resources and local 800 numbers where
kids can go to seek help, as well as health services provided on
In addition to telling Beckman’s story "Clean" paints a vivid picture
of the ugly side of substance abuse – including contributions from
recovering teens and young adults describing what’s really going on in
schools, cars, malls, and other places where kids encounter drugs and
The book is a wake-up call for both kids and adults. According to the
National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcohol is the
leading cause of death among youth, and the extent of alcohol
consumption by children is alarming:
– 3 million children, ages 14 to 17, are regular drinkers with an
already confirmed alcohol problem.
– More than 100,000 12 to 13-year-olds report being drunk every month.
– 24 percent of eighth graders report using alcohol in the past 30
– Ninth graders who drink are almost twice as likely to attempt
suicide as those who don’t.
– 40 percent of those who begin drinking before age 15 eventually
Parents, Beckman says, must first come to believe that alcoholism is
truly a disease that kills. As to whether it is inherited or
environmental, once use changes to abuse and then addiction, it
doesn’t really matter. If that critical corner is turned, there is no
going back; addiction is a progressive disease that never gets better,
only worse – even when not indulged. Someone in recovery must never
drink or use drugs again. Each slip has the potential to be the one
that takes away a life. As one 12-step member claims, once you’re a
pickle, you can never go back to being a cucumber.
"The disease is still inside of me," says Beckman. "The only remedies
are constant diligence and working my 12-step program."
Alcoholism follows a predictable course and is influenced by both
genetics and lifestyle. On average, alcoholics start drinking during
adolescence, increase their intake in their early 20s, and taper off
as they take on the adult roles of spouse, parent, and employee. The
age one begins drinking, especially heavy drinking, is important
because those who start earlier have a higher chance of becoming
abusers and later addicts. According to Beckman, while nearly 1 in 10
teens is addicted to substances, only 1 in 30 of those enter a rehab
program. Twenty-eight out of 29 relapse – some several times. In
addition, many addicts and alcoholics die from substance-related
health issues or accidents. Suicide rates are high.
`I know parents don’t want to hear that their child is abusing
alcohol. But they have to be aware that it’s part of the pop culture.
It’s a part of being a kid now. And, although I don’t have children, I
remember what it was like to want to explore," Beckman says, "and how
alluring alcohol seemed because it was forbidden, and how easy it was
to obtain, and hide. I equated being an adult with using alcohol. It
was a mystery that I wanted to discover all on my own.
"Even as a teen, I was already living a double life. I would tell my
mother I was going one place, and I’d go to the house of one of my
unsupervised friends. Ultimately, each teen has to make a choice. They
can stay after school and do homework, or go out and….But, parents
can’t protect them by holding them hostage."
In fact, recent findings by the Drug Policy Research Center suggest
that attempts to control teen alcohol consumption should focus less on
the prevention of any use, and more on the prevention of misuse.
"Alcoholics and addicts are a stubborn lot," says Beckman. "The more
you point out their substance abuse, the more they deny it, and the
more hostile they get. The use and abuse doesn’t stop, it just goes
"A friend of mine found his 15-year-old smoking marijuana and told me
he was going to lock him in his room and start secretly testing him
for drug use. I believe that will just further impair the
Don’t shame or discipline them for using substances, Beckman says.
Shame doesn’t get adults sober and it doesn’t work on kids, either. "I
can’t stress enough that open communication is the most important
ingredient in prevention. The worst route is to create a
communications boundary causing your kids to sneak around and only
open up to their best friend. It’s important to begin dialogue early
about how drugs and alcohol will impair school and life goals, not to
mention threaten their lives. The best prevention is to have an open
dialogue and be genuinely open to their questions, rather than say
`You’re grounded for five months,’ which doesn’t work anyway."
While sobriety is amazing, Beckman admits that getting sober wasn’t
the answer to all of his problems, because alcohol wasn’t the cause of
his problems, merely a symptom. "My 12-step program requires continued
personal and spiritual growth, which allows me, on a daily basis, to
understand and deal with the underlying pain that caused me to drink."
Part of his recovery program depends on sharing his story with others.
"I really look forward to these speaking events and hope the audience
can benefit from my mistakes. All I can really do is tell them what
I’ve done and where it got me. It helps me to remember how disastrous
my life had become. The alcohol and drug solution certainly didn’t
work for me."
"Clean: A New Generation Speaks Out," Thursday, April 20, 7 p.m., RWJ
Hamilton Center for Health and Fitness, Quaker Bridge Road, Hamilton.
$15. Register by calling 800-483-7436 or online at
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