In March 2012, I went to the Betty
Ford Center in Palm Springs, Calf., to
learn about the treatment of addictions
through the Norlien Foundation.
I admittedly went in with many
inaccurate preconceptions, expecting
perhaps a spa–like resort where rich
people not wanting to deal with day–
to–day stressors may come to escape
reality. That image was shaken quickly
I saw patients and staff alike struggle
with addictions and for the first time
in my training I really understood
addiction as a disease, with its own set
of risk factors; a chronic, progressive
and potentially fatal course; and a
constellation of absolutely devastating
It was transformative to be involved
with a therapy group comprised of
women suffering from addiction. The
group included a surgeon, pediatrician,
police officer and business executive.
I’ll admit that while I dealt with addicts
on a daily basis in my medical training,
I still primarily held the belief that
addiction was a “matter of choice” or
There is no way I could continue those
beliefs after my experience at the clinic.
I also gained a greater appreciation of
the impact of addictions on families and
how family members’ needs are often
unmet in struggles with addiction.
My own approach to patients with
addictions has quickly changed since
my exposure at the clinic. I find myself
more empathetic and a stronger
advocate for them. When one patient
was labelled as “manipulative” and
“borderline,” I reminded myself and my
team that “she’s an addict.” Suddenly,
her behaviours made sense.
Realizing that—and remembering
what I’d learned at the Betty Ford Center
about how even prescription drug use
can rapidly escalate in someone with
any previous addiction—has certainly
affected my prescribing practices.
The staff and patients at the Betty
Ford Center were incredibly welcoming,
encouraging and hopeful that our group
psychiatry residents would approach
our patients with addictions differently
and share that understanding with our
My colleagues and I, who returned
from the program, plan on giving
presentations to fellow residents and
staff to educate them on our experience.
We’ve also whole–heartedly encouraged
them to visit the Betty Ford Center if the
opportunity is again provided.
It was a remarkable opportunity and