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Hazelden looks to encourage families' dialogue on substance use

October 21, 2009
by Gary A. Enos, Editor
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Hazelden’s chief medical officer, Marvin Seppala, M.D., knew from the start that he needed to address the issue of drug use head-on in discussions with his children. Having entered substance use treatment himself at age 17, “I’ve told my kids that they have a genetic predisposition,” Seppala says. He adds that while they didn’t immediately embrace concepts such as the disease model, his children know that the topic of substance use can be discussed openly in the family.

The nationally influential treatment organization based in Minnesota hopes to be the catalyst for similar discussions in many more families. This month Hazelden announced the launch of a “Four Generations Overcoming Addiction” campaign in conjunction with its release of survey results that could make parents less reluctant to discuss substance use—including choices made in their own youth—with their children.

The survey, encompassing online interviews this summer with 603 adolescents ages 15 to 18, found half of teens reporting they would be less likely to use drugs if their parents were open about their own past use. Also, three of four youths said they would turn to their parents as the primary source of advice about substance use, even though 26% said they had witnessed their parents under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“They might not listen to us on things like music or dress, but they listen on the important things,” Seppala says.

Hazelden suggests that these data indicate a generational shift has occurred, with today’s parents more willing to discuss their own past substance use with their children than their parents had been a generation ago. The numbers suggest that today’s teens appear ready to carry on with a similar openness toward the generation to come.

The campaign makes available several resources for families, including a Web site with free videos and conversation guides (www.fourgenerations.org), an online library of podcasts featuring personal accounts from Hazelden alumni, and a recovery resources blog with news about addiction and recovery.

Seppala acknowledges that it might be difficult to evaluate the impact of the campaign in concrete terms, but he believes the general goal is to make sure families are discussing this topic more and that the stigma surrounding substance use problems is lessened. “Maybe we’ll look at the hits on our own sites” as an evaluation measure, he says.