Toronto Mayor Rob Ford announced Wednesday that he is taking a leave from his duties to seek professional help for his addiction issues. “I have a problem with alcohol and the choices I have made while under the influence. I have struggled with this for some time,” he said in a statement. It is expected the mayor will enter rehab for approximately 30 days.
The Globe’s Dave McGinn spoke to Andrew Galloway, an addiction specialist at the Greenestone Clinic, an alcohol and drug addiction recovery and treatment rehab facility in Toronto, about the importance of seeking help, when treatment has the best chance of working and how being a public figure can complicate recovery.
How effective can 30 days in rehab be?
It depends on the person. The reality is, the longer you stay in patient treatment, the better chance you have. Having said that, some people can do it in 30 days. It’s about how solid of a foundation are we going to build. And it also depends on what else is going on for the person who is going to treatment. Is chemical dependence the only thing, or are there other diagnoses that need to be treated? Is there untreated depression? Untreated anxiety? Bipolar [disorder]? Whatever it may be, are those being addressed in treatment as well? So obviously it’s going to depend on each individual person that’s going to go to treatment.
Ford has said he plans to return to the mayoral campaign. Is that putting too much pressure on himself?
Nothing is impossible. Sitting in your house by yourself doing nothing isn’t healthy either. Idle time for an addict is a dangerous time. Will Mayor Ford [think] that he’ll go back to work and balance recovery? Yes, but so does everybody that returns to work after treatment. He’s no different than anyone else that has come forward [to seek treatment], other than being in the press, which can make it a lot more difficult. There’s a lot of pressure on someone when their every move is documented.
How does that pressure affect his recovery?
His failures become much more public, which increases shame, increases guilt, which continues the cycle. At the same time, it could be argued there’s a pretty good motive to make sure you tend not to use again.
Ford told the Toronto Sun this week he knows “I am going to die” if he doesn’t get himself right. What does that statement mean to you?
That’s probably one of the most healthy things he has said. It’s an acknowledgment that he needs to make a drastic change. Addicts or alcoholics, we tend to be treading water in a deep, deep lake and we always think we can swim a long way. We’ve got all these people around us saying, ‘Get in the boat, take the life jacket, take the paddle.’ And we say, ‘No, no, I’m okay.’ But once our head goes underwater, that’s when we become willing to make the change. And it sounds like he’s realizing he’s drowning and needs to make the change. And he’s right, eventually it will kill him.
Is there a single determinant of whether rehab will work?
I can tell you the ones who get involved in an after-care program and continue doing the work they need to do will make the necessary changes and can remain sober.
How much does it complicate his recovery that he has no anonymity?
I would hope that clients that are with him in treatment would respect his confidentiality just as they expect theirs to be respected. Would that make somebody nervous or hesitant? Probably. But I would encourage anyone to have the courage to put as much out there as they can and make it part of the healing process knowing that this is better for you in the long run.
After 30 days in rehab, what does a person need to do to not relapse?
Put recovery first. And that doesn’t guarantee it, either. But in other words, develop a structured program to support your recovery needs. That may mean everything from exercise to healthy eating to individual therapy, group therapy, 12-step or any combination of those things.
Is the most important goal of those 30 days in rehab to ultimately determine the root causes of your addiction?
Hopefully in 30 days you can start to look at reasons and identify your triggers. I’m not always sure there is a big why.
This interview has been edited and condensed.