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In Honor of Betty Ford

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BETTY FORD LEGACY
Getty: ROSE M. PROUSER

As we honor the life of Betty Ford, we pause for a moment to remember how vitally important her perspective, straightforwardness and courage remain in confronting the real issues of addiction, treatment and recovery.

In the field of health care, providers view addiction as a disease. Addiction medicine addresses all the behaviors associated with alcohol and drug abuse as symptoms of an underlying problem that must be treated with compassion, intelligence and determination. Recovery begins with this understanding and moves ahead through abstinence, proper care and sobriety support. What a relief that we do not view addiction as a personal or characterological weakness. What a relief that we have a positive, well-established way to move along from illness to health.

That we can take all of this for granted today is, in large measure, a tribute to Betty Ford. Her courageous and successful efforts to dispel the shame and secrecy of addiction were incredibly pioneering, especially in her time. Her response to the challenges she faced continues to be a model of inspiration for anyone today needing to make an honest assessment of what needs to be accomplished in addressing a problem in both an objective and solutions-oriented way.

Take a look at the Betty Ford Center and you find a center of excellence -- providing a solid, 12-step based support of abstinence and long-term sobriety. In a month there, patients get everything needed to embark on the road of recovery. There are longer-term stays, outpatient treatment offerings and specialty programs devoted to licensed professionals, young adults and those suffering from chronic physical pain. The Betty Ford Center, the nation's first licensed addiction treatment center, stands ready to provide critical support for anyone who can take that critical first step and accept that help is required.

Difficult medical conditions often occur together. Common co-occurring conditions with alcoholism include depression and bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders and attention deficit disorder. In providing sound psychiatric treatment of these classic "dual diagnoses," providers must first ensure that the patient is medically stable and well-supported in recovery. Next, the question of whether or not there is another active problem influencing mood and behavior must be evaluated as quickly as possible. Alcohol and drug problems often may be understood to be, in part, a form of self-medication against these underlying conditions.

Ultimately, there are issues of self-esteem and self-agency that must be addressed: how to respect oneself and move forward with head held high; how to help connect with an inner sense of feeling good about what one has to offer; how to help others. Answers to these questions are keys to realizing the most important outcomes that a person in sustained recovery has to enjoy. Proper psychological and psychiatric care, counseling and coaching enable this highest achievement.

Recognized for being unusually outspoken, Betty Ford addressed problems in a forthright manner. She lived through breast cancer, pain, drug abuse and alcoholism -- all in the public eye, modeling a way for countless others to confront overwhelming, life threatening problems in their own lives.

Thank you, Betty Ford, for leading by example. The right mental attitude, positive approach to the problem at hand, conceptualization, utilization of professional expertise and commitment to long-term success make all the difference in the world.

John Sharp, M.D., is the Executive Medical Director Bridges to Recovery and serves on the Faculties of, Harvard Medical School and David Geffen School of Medicine, UCLA.

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