July 2, 2014 6:12 pm

Rob Ford fact-check: Are the mayor’s addiction statements true?


Toronto Mayor Rob Ford gave his first interviews since getting out of rehab on Wednesday. We talked to some addiction experts to fact-check the mayor’s statements on his disease.

Does substance abuse make you say racist, homophobic or sexist things if you aren’t racist, homophobic or sexist?

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No. Chronic substance users are often exaggerated versions of themselves, meaning that their values are only exaggerated – not created by alcohol and/or drugs, says Dr. Paul McGary, from Lakeride Health’s Pinewood Centre. Substance abusers may say things that are out of line but genuinely felt, meaning those sentiments won’t change with treatment. So while Ford may have been more vocal about his biases as an addict, he can’t blame those biases on alcohol or drugs.

Is lying a symptom of substance abuse, even if it’s unrelated to the addiction itself?

Kind of. Addicts try to shape their lives around their addictions. They often lie about things related to their addiction so that they can continue to abuse, says Dr. Oren Amitay, a registered psychologist. And addiction can also indicate a certain personality type: People with substance abuse problems can have trouble handling internal or external stressors, Amitay says, so they lie to avoid uncomfortable feelings. If treatment helps deal with inner anguish that rids them of their addiction, the lying will often cease as well. And addictions counsellor Mark Elliot says an addict could lie about anything and everything, including corruption allegations or money saved while in office.

Are addicts born addicts? Are they addicts forever?

There are two major schools of thought, McGary said: One is that substance abuse is a medical disease and that a person is born with it. Rob Ford most likely went through a medical-based treatment program. The other major school of thought is that substance abuse is a psycho-social condition. This means that it is a learned behaviour and therefore can be unlearned. Either way, McGary says, the person needs to deal with it for the rest of their lives.

What’s the likelihood of relapse after 60 days of inpatient treatment?

Pretty high. Relapse is the norm, especially for addicts coming out of their first treatment, Amitay said. People attending rehab for the first time often enter at the wrong time in their battle against addiction. The average is six to seven serious attempts at change before a person is successful, McGary says. So that could mean one attempt for some people while others could go through 30 attempts before they’re successful.

Mark Elliot thinks Ford may be overconfident in his ability to stay sober. Elliot points to Ford’s desire to stay in control and remain mayor as evidence he may not be ready. “He’s addicted to being mayor.”

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