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Two Kennedys Open Up on Family Addiction History

Patrick Kennedy and Christopher Kennedy Lawford speak about their substance-related struggles.

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Christopher Kennedy is promoting
his new book about recovery. Photo via

By Valerie Tejeda

01/08/13

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Two members of the storied Kennedy clan have been speaking candidly about their family’s struggles with addicton. Christopher Kennedy Lawford—the son of Patricia Kennedy and nephew of President John F. Kennedy—says he began using drugs and drinking aged 12. He's now 26 years sober. His new book, Recover to Live, hints at previous problems with pills and heroin. “People ask me where my addiction came from and I say I was the prodigy of an addictive perfect storm," he says. "I have the genetics. Alcoholism didn't run in my family; it galloped.” He believes that both genetics and culture contributed. “When I began my drug use at the age of 12 [in 1969] it was an entirely different culture...it was all about experimentation. We didn't know what we know today and we accepted behavior that we wouldn't accept today,” he says. “We know today that an adolescent who suffers great trauma in their adolescence who has genetic frontloading for addiction is much more, 40% more likely to develop this later in life. I had huge trauma as a kid, both my uncles were assassinated. I come from a divorce. There's a lot of stuff that I didn’t know what was going on but I was looking for medication.”

Former Congressman Patrick Kennedy—the son of the late Senator Ted Kennedy—experienced active addiction much more recently; he's now two years sober. “It took me leaving my public life to finally get into long-term sobriety," he says. "Before, it was stopping and starting, stopping and starting. That's the case for most people with these illnesses.” Although Patrick and Christopher may share genetic disadvantages when it comes to addiction, the cousins say they're grateful that they had resources to help them. “One of the things that Chris and I have had access to is good treatment, but most Americans are trying to fly in the night in terms of what's understanding out there and what is good for them,” says Patrick, who has reportedly formed a lobby group to campaign against marijuana legalization. “I come from a family where when we have a hardship or we have a challenge we meet it...My Uncle Teddy would be really mad at me if I turned my back on this.” 

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