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It’s tough being an alcoholic. As the saying goes, alcohol is an equal-opportunity destroyer: “Park bench or Park Avenue, Yale or jail,” anyone can be a candidate. Now imagine being a public figure, a member of one of the country’s most prominent families, and a member of Congress. A Patrick Kennedy memoir is now in the making, and the former congressman, son of the late Edward Kennedy, is on a crusade.
A lifelong Democrat from a dynasty of powerful Democrats—the son of Ted Kennedy, his uncle was John F. Kennedy—Patrick Kennedy is now bucking the progressive trend and advocating against liberalization of marijuana laws, saying that “incarceration is a powerful motivator.” Although as a congressman he voted to allow patients access to pot, he is now in favor of reversing all laws that regard smoking cannabis as medical usage.
His book, which will be titled A Common Struggle: A Very Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction, will be published next year. It chronicles his struggles with addiction and mental illness. Kennedy makes a case for alcohol and drug use being a means to self-medicate his primary problem— bi-polar disorder—and claims that most instances of drug and alcohol addiction are similarly related to underlying mental illnesses. To this end, he champions national awareness and policy changes to help the cause of the mentally ill, especially in terms of insurance coverage.
This leads into a seething cauldron of debate, especially as the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) presents changes that some critics say expand the boundaries of psychiatry and pathologize areas of behavior that perhaps should be left within the range of “normal.” This can lead to pressure to shoehorn a patient into a diagnosis in order to provide treatment—usually pharmaceutical—which could lead to medication of “the worried well.” Advocates for the changes, on the other hand, claim that accurate criteria for diagnoses are crucial for getting the patient appropriate help and for qualifying that help for insurance coverage.
Kennedy maintains that mental illness qualifies as a civil rights issue, stating that the mentally ill are targets of prejudice and that ignorance about the issue marginalizes them and affects public policy.
The Patrick Kennedy memoir includes his treatment, as a teen, for cocaine use. Subsequently, he was diagnosed with bi-polar disorder. In 2006, as a 5-term congressman from Rhode Island, he drove into a barrier outside the Capitol while under the influence of prescription drugs. This high-profile event caused him to go public with his addiction and to seek treatment at the Mayo Clinic. Subsequently, he got married (gaining a step-daughter in the process) to a middle-school teacher. The couple now have a young son. He claims to have the bipolar disorder controlled.
Kennedy has an ally—among many—in another member of his clan. Christopher Kennedy Lawford, son of actor Peter Lawford and Patricia Kennedy, has over 25 year of sobriety and is the author of several books, including Symptoms of Withdrawal, and the newly released Recover to Live: Kick Any Habit, Manage Any Addiction.