The passing of former First Lady Betty Ford provides an opportunity to not only reflect on the leadership role she played while she was in the White House, but also the change in attitude and awareness she engendered regarding substance abuse and addiction.
One day a suburban housewife in Alexandria, Virginia and only months later serving as First Lady, Betty Ford experienced enormous stresses and pressures along with her husband. She rapidly assumed her new role and became a prominent advocate for women’s rights and the handicapped. Her husband’s absences, her responsibilities as a Senator’s wife and head of household and physical problems culminated in her being prescribed Valium. In 1964, when she began taking this drug, its addictive nature was not acknowledged. She relied on it to reduce her pain from a shoulder injury and arthritis. The addiction to Valium that she developed was complicated by the continuous alcohol consumption that was customary by all attendants at her social and political meetings.
After Gerald Ford left the Presidency in 1977, the sudden cessation of social and political obligations allowed for an aggravation of her addiction to Valium and her use of alcohol. It was obvious to the Ford family that she needed help to overcome these addictions. Bravely realizing that millions of other Americans were suffering the same problems she was, she publicly faced these demons, as she had her breast cancer in 1974. She was successfully treated at the Long Beach Naval Hospital and disclosed the details of her treatment then followed this with a chronicle of her recovery in her 1987 memoir, A Glad Awakening.
But simply overcoming her own addiction was not adequate for Betty. She recognized that taboos on talking about substance abuse, addiction and rehabilitation were preventing those who were addicted from receiving treatment. She followed her public statements on her recovery with effective action, co-founding the Betty Ford Center in 1982. At the Betty Ford Center, half the beds were always reserved for women suffering from addiction. The center has served many high profile individuals who needed treatment for substance abuse, including Elizabeth Taylor, Robert Downey, Jr, Drew Barrymore, Johnny Cash, Billy Joel, Keith Urban and Kelsey Grammar.
Narconon International President Clark Carr commended Betty for her role in changing American attitudes about drug addiction. “Before Betty went public with her treatment for addiction, this wasn’t a problem people discussed openly,” said Mr. Carr. “Now there are many more treatment options and the social stigma of addiction is much reduced which makes it easier for people to reach out for help. Betty started this ball rolling by being open about her treatment. This was an heroic action on her part.” Narconon is an international non-profit organization dedicated to the elimination of substance abuse and addiction through drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education.
“Without Betty’s leadership, the work of Narconon to educate people on the extent of the substance abuse problem in this country would be more difficult,” Mr. Carr added. “We owe her a debt of gratitude and pledge to continue to support this cause until we have a world free from addiction to alcohol, illicit drugs and prescription drugs.”
For more information on the Narconon drug and alcohol rehabilitation and education programs, call 1-800-775-8750.