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Miss USA started drinking at 14, used cocaine

In her first television interview since completing a month-long stint in rehab, 21-year-old Tara Conner admits her problems went beyond alcohol.
/ Source: TODAY

In an NBC interview, her first since getting out of a month-log stint in rehab, Miss USA Tara Conner admitted that in addition to drinking, she did drugs.

“I have done cocaine,” she admitted to Matt Lauer, in an interview that will air on NBC’s Dateline. A clip was played on the TODAY show Wednesday morning.

When asked how admitting the drug use publicly made her feel, the 21-year-old Kentucky native replied: “It gets it off my chest.”

The beauty queen now describes herself as “completely different.” “The great thing about getting everything out, and being completely open ... is it frees me from it,” Conner says. “The more I get it off my chest, the better I feel about myself. It’s not healthy for my recovery to sit here and hold things back.”

When asked about how her addiction to alcohol developed, she said she started drinking at a young age. “Probably around 14," she said. “My entire life, I learned to protect myself and how to wear a mask ... I had all these insecurities within me. Today, you have an honest girl.”

Conner spent the holidays in a Pennsylvania rehab facility and is now resuming her duties as Miss USA. She was allowed to keep her crown by pageant owner Donald Trump, who, in giving her the much-publicized “second chance,” sparked a feud with “The View” co-host Rosie O’Donnell.

During the  interview, she also talked about her sometimes-contentious relationship with the Miss Universe organization. “It wasn't their fault that there was friction,” she explains. “It was completely on me. The thing about an addict or an alcoholic is we are manipulative. We feel like we always have to have control. But she [organization president Paula Shugart] always called me out.”

Conner called Shugart “an amazing woman" whose words got to her. "I broke. And then the real Tara started to come out just a little bit because I was vulnerable for a second."

She maintains that she was never drunk while participating in any pageants or Miss USA events. “I’m living my life now one day at a time,” she says. “And I choose right now to live a life of recovery.”

Conner will appear live on TODAY on Thursday morning and will answer viewer e-mail.

The full interview with Conner will air on NBC’s Dateline Saturday night at 8 p.m.