Betty Ford's Legacy to Addicted Women Lives On

By Chelsea Carmona 03/25/13

An important event highlights the need for gender-specific addiction treatment.

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Betty Ford paved the way. Photo via

Over 230 addiction professionals fought through the southern California traffic to get to UCLA on Thursday morning, all in the name of Betty Ford. Even before she had decades of research on her side, the former First Lady knew that addicted women encounter different obstacles on their journey to recovery than men. And it’s for this reason that the Betty Ford Center’s Women’s Symposium aims to provide innovative tools to professionals who care for women suffering from addiction.

“If we don’t do what we know works, then we are negligent,” said Dr. Kitty S. Harris at the event. Dr. Harris, the author of Women and Recovery: Finding Hope, spoke about the intense need to treat emerging adults in a new way. Twenty-eight days is not enough to achieve long-term, sustained recovery, she explained; we need to re-socialize these young adults in healthy, safe communities like those in transitional living. “There’s nothing like walking into a building with 90 students who have been given a second chance,” she continued, having to speak loudly to be heard over the sudden applause, “And that’s as good as it gets.” Stories from speakers and recovering women all confirmed the remarkable reach of Betty Ford and the treatment center she co-founded. Keynote speaker and actress Ali MacGraw, for instance, first recognized her alcoholism at the Betty Ford Center four years after its opening in 1986. By publicly acknowledging her disease, Ford also gave a voice to Dr. Harris. “I don’t know,” Dr. Harris said to her father after he expressed concerns about her behavior in 1978, “But I think that Betty Ford and I have something in common.”

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Chelsea Carmona is a freelance writer whose work has been featured in The Washington Post, Al Jazeera English, The Christian Science Monitor, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Guardian. She works for The OpEd Project, a social venture founded to increase the range of voices and ideas we hear in the world. You can follow Chelsea on Twitter or Linkedin.