Toren Volkmann Photo

At the end of high school, Toren Volkmann described himself as an academic, an athlete and an artist, destined for a venerable college experience. Like most first year students, Toren flirted with using alcohol to fit into the new social fabric of college life.

In a matter of months, alcohol quickly became a new priority for him and then turned into a dangerous addiction. By the end of college, he became a full-blown alcoholic at the age of 23.

Most students are highly aware of two realities when entering college: that they are in for a great new experience, and that there is a campus culture of alcohol—around athletic events, in many student organizations or just hanging with friends. Most students will drink. Some don’t. Some will make wise choices and avoid negative consequences. Much of it will depend on the environments in which they spend time and the people with whom they become friends. For those who need alcohol to thrive in social settings, and for those who choose to associate with other risk-takers, their use of alcohol has the potential to set them on a path, intended to or not, where goals, personal health, friendships and families are nearly destroyed.

Toren could not admit he had an issue with drinking, despite many problems he faced on campus, including being kicked out of the dorms, fighting, public intoxication and numerous run-ins with the police. In fact, he loved the lifestyle he was living, often drinking until he blacked out and being proud he could surround himself with piles of “empties.” He maintained the goal of graduating from college, and once he did that, he believed his life and habits would change as soon as he entered a new environment and socialized with different people.

His world finally came crashing down during a stint in the Peace Corps in South America, where he found himself relying heavily on alcohol to fit into his new surroundings and new social peers. Alcohol had become both a social and a physical addiction. Knowing his life was on a dangerous trajectory, Toren was flown back to the U.S. under emergency circumstances, underwent detox for a month and checked into a rehab for half a year to confront his addiction. It was also the first time he admitted to his parents he had problem.

Now sober eight years, Toren wrote a book with his mother titled “From Binge to Blackout: A Mother and Son Deal with Teen Drinking,” chronicling not only his reckless life as young alcoholic but how he and his mother also completely denied the presence of his disease. His campus keynote is more than a personal cautionary tale. He implores students to question their use of alcohol, the amount they consume and with whom they are drinking. Backed with sound educational research about the strong negative impact of alcohol on the developing young brain and the role of genetics in alcoholism, Toren’s keynote is an insightful alcohol program that will encourage students to seriously consider how their behavior surrounding alcohol can transform from fun weekend partying to a full-blown addiction.

About three hundred people, which included freshmen, peer mentors, peer educators, athletes, upperclassmen, faculty and staff, filled our theater. Toren captured each and every one of them through his real life stories and situations. Our students were able to relate so well to Toren and were clearly touched as he recounted his life as a college student with an addiction. I have received so much positive feedback from our university community in regards to the program. Toren has really touched many lives at DeSales University.

Wendy S. Krisak, DeSales University

His honesty and frankness grabbed the attention of the audience and spurred a great deal of thought and communication about many of the problems we face in our own campus community. Toren brought an immense amount of knowledge that relates well to college-age kids that allows him to seem credible, but still on the level as a peer. He brings an edge to his message, and encourages kids to think for themselves. This makes him not only seem real, but someone that students want to listen to.

Tara Roberts , Washington State University

Seeing Through The Blur

For many students, constant drinking in college can seem sexy, fun, and completely normal. But, four years of drinking like an alcoholic can have unforeseen consequences. Some students don’t drink at all, and most make smart decisions, overall. But on today’s college campuses, there are those who abuse alcohol with a determination that raises their drinking to professional levels. We all know these people, and they affect our college experience. Toren Volkmann was one of those out-of-control drinkers. He was proud of his drinking, and every night out offered a new risk and a new challenge to top the night before.

In Seeing Through the Blur, Toren Volkmann takes his college audience on a ride though the peaks and valleys of his own experiences as a drinker. It didn’t take long before he found himself fully socially and physically dependent on alcohol. He was so completely wasted from college partying that he was unable to function in the real world that awaited him after graduation. He paints the not-so-pretty picture of how innocent partying throughout the seductive years of college can not only morph into extreme abuse and addiction, but can actually cause individuals to lose sight of who they are and what matters most.

Toren uses his own experiences to combat the glamour of heavy drinking, address the media and marketing’s effect on the alcohol culture, as well as information about alcohol’s impact on brain development, and its interaction with genetics and addiction. Beyond his poignant descriptions of college drinking gone wrong and the early signs and symptoms of a problem, Toren discusses the life-long consequences of his drinking, openly discusses his recovery from alcoholism and gives college students reasons to take their drinking decisions seriously.

Learning Outcomes

As a result of attending this program, students will learn:

  • About addiction, genetics, brain development, and to consider the impact of heavy drinking on their health, relationships, and academic performance.
  • To identify ways to challenge the alcohol culture, think critically about information portrayed in media and advertising, and how to listen or assist those who may be struggling with drinking issues.
  • To consider their own personal identity in relationship to alcohol, and ways to demonstrate leadership in their community.
  • Avenues for support as they consider new paths of growth toward their goals and aspirations beyond the college years.

Toren's Bio

Toren Volkmann speaks nationally to college audiences about his experiences as a college binge drinker and his decision to seek treatment for alcoholism during his Peace Corps work in South America. Having co-authored the book From Binge to Blackout, Volkmann has been an advocate for alcohol awareness issues, reducing stigmas of addiction, and addressing the need for more recovery options for youth. Volkmann, who has played in various bands, is currently studying for a Masters in Counseling Psychology while continuing his passionate pursuits of music, surfing, urban cycling and gardening.


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