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Lesley Stahl recently interviewed Patrick Kennedy, the son of Ted Kennedy, on a 60 Minutes episode in which he opens up about his own alcoholism and how addiction affected his family.
In an era when there is still a stigma and shame that surrounds people and families with an alcohol or substance abuse addiction, many people are stepping up and going public with their problems. While the conversation might still be taboo for many, it is definitely softening as more people come forward.
It isn’t easy for anyone to open up about having a drinking problem. For most of us, it is embarrassing to discuss with family or close friends and the shame attached forces it behind closed doors. The stakes are even higher for celebrities and famous faces. In the past, word of a drinking problem would ruin careers from which there might be no recovery. Addiction was seen as a character flaw or moral failing, which further drove home the shame.
Today, more high-profile people are saying that simply isn’t true, and they have the media’s attention. As Patrick Kennedy explains in the interview, he is leading a political movement to change the way we all think about not just addiction, but also mental health issues. They’re medical issues and should be treated that way.
Kennedy is five years sober and he calls addiction a “family disease” because it has an impact not only on the person but also on their entire family. The Kennedys are no strangers to alcohol problems, and like many others, it runs in families.
Alcohol is widely accepted in our nation’s capital, and when the family business is grounded there, it’s difficult to stay sober. Alcohol is one way to dull the pain from the stress of the job. But you don’t have to be a Kennedy to suffer from alcohol in the family or work environment. These are things that many of us encounter in daily life, except our lives aren’t on display in public.
It takes a lot of strength and courage to own up to our problems and take inventory. It isn’t easy for anyone. But knowing that if someone like Patrick Kennedy can open up and be honest with himself and his family, and seek treatment, there’s hope for the rest of us. He has said that his family is angry about his book that talks about many of the family secrets. Yet he still moves forward in the hopes that others will be helped.
The stakes are high for everyone, but today, there are countless paths to take for overcoming alcoholism and finding a life of sobriety. Treatment centers are available nationwide, along with private counseling, and group therapy. And here’s the important part…a national conversation is taking root and many state governors and even Washington is talking about ways to get help for people instead of incarcerating them for their addictions.
The first step is always recognizing there is a problem and understanding that it can’t be fixed alone or in silence. Denial doesn’t work, and the longer the problem progresses, the worse it gets. It won’t go away on it’s own and the hole just gets deeper to climb out of over time.
More people like Patrick Kennedy should be encouraged to break their silence in the hopes that the shame and stigma of addiction is completely erased around the world and we realize it’s okay to talk about it and get help.