'I needed to go all in': Detroit Lakes native shares his story of recovery from alcohol addiction
As a teen, alcohol had a grip on Dustin Grandbois that almost destroyed his life — leading him down a dark path of DUIs, juvenile detention and prison. But at age 21, he began to turn things around and build anew, and today, he's a successful civil engineer in Fargo. Grandbois recently spoke to students at Moorhead High School about his journey from alcohol addiction to successful family man.
DETROIT LAKES — Days bled into nights during Dustin Grandbois' blurry teenage years.
As a youth growing up in Detroit Lakes, alcohol had a grip on him that almost destroyed his life — leading him down a dark path of DUIs, juvenile detention, and eventually, prison.
But at age 21, Grandbois began to turn things around. He was in a stable relationship, and had just become a new father. He discovered the will to rebuild and wanted to start anew.
It wasn't easy. There were major setbacks and relapses along his road to recovery, but in 2020, he graduated from college with a degree in civil engineering. And today, he's enjoying a successful career in that field, in Fargo.
Grandbois recently spoke to students at Moorhead High School about his journey from alcohol addiction to career-minded family man, hoping to make a positive impression on the youth there.
“I always wanted to speak with kids and share my story in hopes it would inspire some of them,” he told the Detroit Lakes Tribune.
Grandbois was only 14 when he had his first swig of alcohol, and he remembers it as an almost "magical experience," one that released his anxieties and social inhibitions.
After that, drinking quickly became a regular activity for him. While some of his friends drank for show, Grandbois was always on a mission to get drunk.
His parents, Steve Grandbois and Bernice Belgaurde, noticed a change in their son’s behavior and tried to get him back on the right path, but to no avail.
“Both of my parents were good parents,” Grandbois said. “They were educated, had college degrees and I grew up in a typical middle class way. I had all I needed. They tried talking to me, lecturing me and grounding me, but it didn’t help. I refused to be controlled, regardless of what discipline they tried to impose.”
Grandbois’ choices led him to have run-ins with the law, and he was hit with Minor in Consumption of Alcohol charges and multiple DUIs.
“I had to go to a juvenile detention center, but that had no impact,” he said. “It didn’t deter my drinking or behavior.”
When he turned 20, Grandbois collected his fourth DUI — an automatic felony in Minnesota.
“They stayed my prison sentence, and I served a little time and went on with my life,” he recalled.
At the age of 21, he was still on probation when his first child was welcomed into the world and he began re-examining the trajectory of his life. He applied for — and received — a scholarship to North Dakota State University to study civil engineering.
At NDSU, Grandbois found himself drawn to analytics, science and all that civil engineering has to offer. He made the Dean’s List and received positive feedback from professors. Yet, he still answered when the bottle called.
He knew the double life he was leading could only hold out for so long. During his last two years of college, his health deteriorated, as did his ability to concentrate.
“I was only able to handle one class and had to withdraw from the others,” he said. “Life became very unmanageable. And that was the first time I seriously thought about getting sober.”
He’d been through about nine total treatments (in-patient and out-patient) by that time. His first honest attempt lasted almost a year, but a relapse resulted in a probation violation, which sent him to prison for two years.
“I needed consequences in my life at that time to wake me up,” he said. “I needed that change.”
His time in prison was well spent. He soaked up knowledge from his state-required treatment program and "finally got on the right track," he said. “I took it seriously and I learned a lot."
After qualifying for early release, Grandbois returned to Detroit Lakes on work release and served the remainder of his sentence while working at Subway for minimum wage. He also sought out Alcoholics Anonymous, and the program helped him to be honest with himself and his actions.
“Even if I didn’t think I did wrong, I would still ask what was in my control and what I could’ve done differently,” he said. “There were a few relapses, and they were a little scary. I needed to prove to myself one more time that there was no such thing as controlled drinking. I needed to go all in with my sobriety and change my life."
He did just that, following every recommendation his recovery program suggested.
With his feet back on solid ground, he tried to return to college. He was told to apply the following year — and he did.
Grandbois held his ground during the waiting period, becoming a journeyman painter and earning enough money to provide for his growing family, which by then included another child. He even started his own business.
When the time came for him to return to NDSU, he was able to make his work schedule fit around his studies so he could obtain his degree.
“We had two kids, and my wife at the time was very supportive,” he said. “She deserves a lot of credit for how much she took care of things around the house so that I could work and go to school.”
For alcohol addiction help or information in the Detroit Lakes area, contact:
- Lakes Counseling Center, 218-847-0696
- Detroit Lakes Addiction Recovery, 800-232-7963
- Becker County Energize, beckercountyenergize.com
- Alcoholics Anonymous, https://aaminnesota.org/meetings/?tsml-day=any&tsml-region=detroit-lakes