George W. Bush’s Daughters Recall His Talk About Alcohol Abuse

By Kelly Burch 10/26/17

"He said that overdrinking ran in our family, and was something that Barbara and I needed to watch out for.”

Jenna Bush
Jenna Bush

After a wedding celebration that got a bit spirited, George W. Bush took his fraternal twin daughters, who were then 23, on a walk to discuss alcohol abuse and unhealthy drinking habits, something the president had firsthand experience with. 

“The night before, we had celebrated the wedding of one of our cousins, where the guests, including us, grew raucous with hours of open bar and champagne,” Jenna Bush told Radar. “My dad called us the next morning and asked us to go on a walk, something that had become far more rare now that he was in the White House.”

On that walk, the president told Jenna and her sister Barbara that they needed to be more aware of their drinking, given the family’s history. 

“Above the sound of waves and the ocean wind, my dad talked to us about alcoholism,” said Jenna Bush, who is now 35. “He talked about himself, saying that when he was drinking, he didn’t like the person he was becoming. He said that overdrinking ran in our family, and was something that Barbara and I needed to watch out for.”

Although Bush never identified as a person with drinking issues, he has been open about the fact that he does not drink, and has struggled with it in the past. Bush initially said that a religious awakening had changed his drinking habits, but in her memoir former First Lady Laura Bush said her husband decided to give up drinking after a hard-partying weekend to celebrate his 40th birthday.

"George just woke up and he knew he wanted to quit," Laura Bush told Oprah in 2010, according to ABC News. "And he stopped and he was able to stop. A lot of people can't. A lot of people need help to stop. He just stopped cold turkey.”

Bush’s daughters always grew up with their father not drinking, but the topic was never discussed, they said. 

“I don’t remember if he was too loud or boisterous or too willing to make a flippant remark or needle a friend,” said the elder Bush daughter, Barbara. “Jenna and I were four and a half when he stopped. What I knew was that he didn’t drink, that when everyone else had a beer at a baseball game, he was the person without a cup in his hand. It was confusing as a child. I didn’t grasp the importance of his desire to choose his kids and his family over anything else that might get in the way.”

Jenna Bush said that she is thankful her father talked to her about risky drinking. 

“I remember being a bit irritated listening that afternoon, nursing a headache and a case of fuzzy mouth,” she said. “But now I see it as a brave and responsible conversation, one that he could have easily avoided, but didn’t.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.