North Dakota's First Lady Discusses Addiction Platform

By Britni de la Cretaz 09/11/17

In a new interview, North Dakota's First Lady Kathryn Helgaas Burgum explains her decision to make addiction her primary platform. 

Kathryn Helgaas Burgum
Photo via YouTube

Just two months after her husband took office as governor of North Dakota, Kathryn Helgaas Burgum announced to the world that she was in long-term recovery from alcohol addiction.

Helgaas Burgum revealed that she has been sober for over 15 years. Because the issue of addiction hit the first family so close to home, they have dedicated themselves to helping improve addiction resources and support for North Dakotans.

In a new interview with the Associated Press, Helgaas Burgum explains why she chose to make addiction her primary platform as First Lady of North Dakota. "I'm doing it mostly because I feel like I've been given a gift—a gift of being sober and not having a struggle any more, at least not today," she said. "I want to share that gift with others who need help and have been impacted by the disease of addiction. The only way to erase the shame and stigma of addiction is by talking about it.”

In May, Governor Doug Burgum announced that he plans to donate money from his personal salary to addiction services in the state, calling it “seed money” for improving North Dakota’s treatment and support programs.

At the time, he said in a statement, “The salary I have been legally obligated to accept since taking office Dec. 15 will be donated as seed money for new recovery and treatment initiatives the First Lady will announce at a later date, continuing our focus on enhancing addiction services statewide.”

In February, he described the kind of services needed as "faith-based, nonprofits, private sector," with the support of "individuals, families, [and] everybody working together" in an interview with the Bismarck Tribune.

In that same interview, Helgaas Burgum revealed that before she became sober she spent 10 days at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, as well as some outpatient programs. She said she hopes to create more public-private partnerships to help support addiction recovery services, like sober housing.

“There are people that are willing to spend money on sober houses. Because at some point when people start getting sober, they start paying rent. They start becoming, you know, members of the community,” she told the Tribune.

Earlier this month, she gave her first public speech about her alcohol addiction as part of September’s Recovery Month programming. On September 26, Helgaas Burgum will host "Recovery Reinvented” at the Bismarck Event Center, which will bring together addiction experts to discuss how to “reinvent recovery” in North Dakota. 

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.