Teens Look to Parent Openness for Drugs, Alcohol Advice

Study: Parents who talk about their own use help teens with drugs, alcohol.

October 07, 2009, 2:46 PM

Oct. 8, 2009 — -- Teens say hearing about their parents' experiences with drugs and alcohol would make them less likely to use the substances themselves, according to a new study.

Released today, the study, conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs on behalf of the Hazelden Foundation, a Minnesota-based addiction treatment center, found that the majority of teens surveyed would turn to their parents as the primary source of advice about alcohol or drug use.

Sixty-seven percent of teenagers in the survey said their parents had told them about their past experiences with alcohol and drugs, and 95 percent of those teens welcomed that openness.

One-third of the teens said their parents had not shared information about their experiences with drugs, and most of those teens said they wanted their parents to open up on the subject.

Open communication from parents makes a difference, Toby McKenna, a recovering addict who has been sober for two years, said.

McKenna, 25, first experimented with alcohol when he was 14. By the time he got to college, he was hooked on cocaine.

The Roseville, Minn., man, starting missing classes, and stopped going to football practice.

He dropped out of college and went home to live with his parents, where he did whatever he could to get high, even stealing his mother's medication after she was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

The addiction turned him into a stranger, his father, Tim McKenna, said.

"I didn't even know my child anymore," he said. "He went from grammar school, where everything was wonderful, to someone we didn't even know. The lying and the cheating, and we were in full denial."

For parents who grew up in a more permissive generation, it's hard to be open about their past with their children, but more than 60 percent of the teens in the survey said hearing about their parents experiences would make them more responsible, and more than half said it would even make them less likely to use drugs.

Only 2 percent of the teens reported that hearing about their parents' experiences would make them less responsible, while 4 percent said that it would make them more likely to try the substances.

'Four Generations Overcoming Addiction'

Ipsos, a market research company, surveyed 603 boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 18, as well as 620 parents of teens in the same age range.

The findings have inspired a new national campaign designed to spark conversations about the dangers of addiction. Dubbed Four Generations Overcoming Addiction, the Hazelden campaign is aimed at the millennial generation (or "generation next"), generation X, baby boomers and the greatest generation.

"Each generation views the use of alcohol and other drugs through a different filter," Mark Mishek, Hazelden's chief executive, said in a news release. "Each requires a different approach when they seek treatment for addiction. With 54 percent of students admitting to using drugs by the time they leave high school and 50 percent using alcohol by eighth grade, it's vital that all generations break through the stigma and speak openly about addiction and the benefits of treatment and recovery."

The survey shows that views on how open to be about drug and alcohol use may be changing.

Although only 47 percent of the parents surveyed admitted to having had frank discussions with their own parents as teens, 67 percent of the teens who were surveyed said they had had such conversations with their parents, and 83 percent of them said they expected to have such discussions with their own children.

William Cope Moyers, the son of renowned journalist Bill Moyers, said the survey shows that children are looking to their parents for straight talk about drugs and alcohol.

The younger Moyers was a casual user of marijuana and alcohol in high school. His eventual addiction to crack cocaine led him to walk out on his wife and children.

Sober for the past 20 years, Moyers says he's brutally honest with his three children about his addiction.

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