It is hard to believe, but alcoholism was declared a disease by both the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association back in 1955. But acceptance of the disease has not come without a fight. Betty Ford helped in that fight when she opened her alcohol and drug treatment center in 1982 in Rancho Mirage, California. “The fact that Betty Ford lent her name to the center had a profound effect on the treatment of alcoholism,” said Dr. James West, who served as medical director at the Betty Ford Center from its opening until his retirement in April of 2007. “When she made it clear that she was the head of this place and a recovering person herself, that had a very profound effect on the whole system throughout the country.” While Ford received treatment for her own drug and alcohol addiction at the Long Beach Naval Hospital’s Alcohol and Drug Rehabilitation Service in 1978. The Navy used the 12 step program and developed a treatment model based on Alcoholics Anonymous when they learned sailors were abusing drugs while serving in the Vietnam War. Over the years, Ford became a vocal national advocate for sobriety. Her death last week at the age of 93 was met by many celebrities who thank Ford for their sobriety and health. “She was there all the time to help in every way and talk with individual patients. Being a recovering patient herself, she knew what recovery was all about,” West said.