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Former First Lady Betty Ford, who died Friday at the age of 93, had a profound effect on the treatment of alcoholism and other addictions by courageously admitting her own struggles with addiction, says a past medical director of the Betty Ford Center.

Although alcoholism was declared a disease in 1955 by the American Psychiatric Association, awareness was slow to spread, according to USA Today. By opening the Betty Ford Center in 1982 in Rancho Mirage, CA, the former First Lady changed the face of addiction treatment. The center treats both alcohol and drug addictions.

Dr. James West, who was Medical Director of the center from its opening until 2007, told USA Today, “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.”

Ford’s inspiration for opening her center stemmed from her own treatment for alcoholism in 1978. West said the center’s 12-step-based program was unique because it is designed for a patient population that is 50 percent female. Most alcoholism treatment programs have an overwhelming majority of male patients, he said. Many celebrities have been treated at the center, the newspaper notes.

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