Betty Ford: Shining a Light on Addiction

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Betty Ford

You might have heard the news that former first lady Betty Ford recently died at the age of 93. Many of you reading this might never have heard of Betty Ford; after all, she became First Lady way back in 1974. But maybe you’ve heard of the Betty Ford Center, a rehab center in Rancho Mirage, California, where many celebrities have gone to seek treatment for their addictions. You also may not know why she built the center.

Not long after Richard Nixon resigned from office during the Watergate scandal, Jerry Ford suddenly became President and the family got thrust into public life. Betty Ford wrote in her memoirs that her family never wanted that level of fame, but accepted it to help the country through difficult times.

Over the years, as the spotlight on Betty Ford and her family grew, she began to drink more heavily on top of a dependency on pain pills, which started in 1964 when she got a prescription to relieve constant pain from a neck injury and a pinched nerve. We now know that mixing pills and alcohol is a big mistake.

Once she was First Lady, people began to notice that when she spoke she was slowly slurring her words and she seemed to have no energy. After her husband’s presidency was over, Betty Ford left public life and soon announced she was addicted to pills and alcohol. In her memoirs, she tells the story about how her family confronted her about her addiction, which at first she was not happy about. Later, she thanked them and became a champion for people struggling with the disease.

Her openness about her addiction was shocking to some people. Forty years ago, people tried to hide the fact they had an addiction problem, but she bravely brought it into the light, giving others the courage to ask for help with their own drug abuse and addiction problems. She entered rehab and, with treatment, learned to manage her addictions.

A few years later she opened a rehab center in her name to help other people. Today the Betty Ford Center is a thriving treatment center, and because of its closeness to Los Angeles, it has become a rehab center for many famous people, including Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey, Jr., Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Taylor, and many others.

So SBB says thank you Betty Ford for having the courage to use your personal story to educate people about addiction, and for bringing it from the darkness into the light, from shame and despair to treatment and hope.

How did she have the courage to bring her addiction out in the open? She has been quoted as saying, “The public needed to know that this didn’t have to be swept under the rug anymore, that this needed to be open and discussed.”

Find Help Near You

Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to find substance use or other mental health services in your area. If you are in an emergency situation, this toll-free, 24-hour hotline can help you get through this difficult time: call 1-800-273-TALK, or visit the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. We also have step by step guides on what to do to help yourself, a friend or a family member.

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