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Female pioneers in addiction treatment

October 1, 2013
by Rebecca Flood
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I think it’s important that before we can move forward, we have to honor our past. We have to embrace it and respect it. We have to give thanks to the people that forged more difficult roads than we did. If we want to build new leaders, we have to learn from previous ones.

In a previous blog I explored the stigmas that still cloud our understanding of female addicts. But though we’ve still got a long way to go when it comes to the mainstream understanding of addiction, I take heart in the progress we’ve made thus far. In this post I’d like to take a look at some of the women who helped lay the groundwork in our field.

I’d also like to take this time to acknowledge and thank William White for providing us with an extensive look into the history of addiction treatment. His research was and continues to be a tremendous help when it comes to searching out the roots of female involvement in this profession.

As far back as the 1840s women began to come together in groups such as the Martha Washington Society and the Daughters of Temperance for mutual support. They supported recovery within their communities and also championed specialized treatment for women. Women are particularly relational beings. When they get together there’s camaraderie. There’s a desire to help each other in substantial ways, to recreate families and to make a better tomorrow.

From the 1940s-1980s there were significant women who became courageously public about their personal experience with this disease, and who also became vocal advocates for recovery. I want to highlight three women in particular here—Marty Mann, Betty Ford and Pam Wilder.

In my opinion, Marty Mann was the most vocal advocate for breaking down the stigma associated with the disease of addiction we’ve ever had. She dedicated her life to transforming the understanding of addiction to a disease instead of a moral failing. The organization she created, the National Council on Alcoholism (NCA), still stands today.

Betty Ford valiantly went public with the fact that she suffered from the disease of alcoholism, just as she did about breast cancer. She held her head high and proclaimed this without shame. When we in recovery are no longer ashamed of who we are, and when we really believe in the “3 C’s” (didn’t cause it, can’t control it, can’t cure it), we become free to assist those who still suffer.

Pam Wilder, a founding member of New Directions for Women, stood up in the 1970s in the middle of an Orange County Junior League Meeting and shared that she was a recovering alcoholic. This was a meeting full of her friends and colleagues, and these were women with access to resources. That took much courage on Pam’s part; it took her being comfortable in her own skin, it took acceptance of the reality of her disease. She bared her soul not just for her own  sake, but to share the fact that there were other women right there in their own backyard who were suffering from the same disease. She asked the question, “Can we create a place where women can get well with dignity and respect?” By casting aside shame, and treating herself and her disease with rightful compassion, Pam was able to offer compassion and understanding to others.



Rebecca Flood

President and CEO of Ashley Addiction Treatment


Rebecca Flood is president and CEO of Ashley Addiction Treatment. She previously served as CEO...

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