December 11th, 2008
03:12 PM ET
14 years ago

Bush reflects on struggle with alcohol

[cnn-photo-caption image= caption="Bush reflected on his own addiction to alcohol."]WASHINGTON (CNN) - President Bush reflected on his own struggle with alcohol in a White House meeting today to tout gains in the war on drug abuse.

CNN was the only media outlet invited to attend the entire meeting, which other reporters joined in the final minutes for remarks from the president.

Several in the room, including Don Coyhis of Colorado Springs, Colorado who runs a program targeting Native Americans battling substance abuse, were recovered addicts or alcoholics.

Bush, who quit drinking at the age of 40, was impressed.

"Congratulations on thirty years of sobriety," the president told Coyhis. "I'm eight years behind you."

The president told the group of fourteen, all leaders in drug prevention, treatment and interdiction programs around the country, that a new study shows teen drug abuse has dropped 25 percent since he took office in 2001.

"No question there's still work to do in America, but we are making progress," said Mr. Bush.
But the study by the University of Michigan cautioned that progress could be threatened by a drop in the percentage of young people who think marijuana is harmful. And it found a high percentage of teens are abusing prescription drugs – with nearly 10 percent of seniors reporting using Vicodin over the last year, nearly 5 percent abusing Oxycontin.

Bush listened to participants' stories and shared some candid moments.

Professional baseball player Josh Hamilton, who once suffered from a debilitating drug addiction, talked about seeking help from eight different treatment centers. "They didn't work for me," he said.

It wasn't until his grandmother confronted him while he was high on drugs that something clicked.

"That moment cleared my mind, opened my heart, and that following night I committed my life to Christ," said Hamilton.

President Bush praised the effectiveness of the programs represented, most private and faith-based.

"I'm a faith-based guy," explained Mr. Bush. "Sometimes to help change a person's behavior, you have to change their heart. Government's not really good at that."

Former New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. talked about why he was motivated to launch a student drug testing program that has now spread to 20 city high schools.

Over his nearly 30-year-career, Connick said, "I sent a lot of people to the penitentiary. But at one point I thought, this is not enough."

The father of singer Harry Connick Jr. maintained the best way to reduce demand for drugs is to test high school students.

Dr. Katie McQueen advocated more careful screening of patients for substance abuse by hospitals and doctors.

"Of the millions of people who need help, most don't get it because they don't think they need it.," explained McQueen.

When McQueen announced her Houston program was based in "the great state of Texas," President Bush interrupted with a broad smile, "I'll be home in about – but who's counting – 39 days."

Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, discussed research that shows that 50 percent of a person's vulnerability to drug addiction is genetic.
President Bush asked whether the same was true of alcohol abuse.

"There's clearly a genetic component," responded Volkow. "That's why prevention is so important."

Lt. Mike Boudreaux of the Tulare County Sheriff's Department described his battle to eradicate marijuana fields on California public lands.

"It's a daunting task," said Boudreaux of their efforts that often involve confronting dangerous Mexican drug dealers intent on protecting their hidden fields.

Boudreaux added that his mother said to tell President Bush she prays for him.

"One of the most striking aspects of being president is the power of prayer in my life. I feel it," said Mr. Bush. "Some days are happy. Some days are not so happy. But every day is joyous."

Filed under: President Bush
soundoff (311 Responses)
  1. S.B. Stein E.B. NJ

    I don't think he ever really stopped drinking to the point that it could be a problem. If I'm wrong, then he is really a foolish man that doesn't seem to have any interest in learning or conveys that either. That is a problem in America; leaders failing to show what a good example is and continue to learn.

    December 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  2. P

    Bush has driven the rest of America to drink least we don't have Prohibition during this economic disaster.

    December 11, 2008 03:58 pm at 3:58 pm |
  3. shawn

    At least he was honest. Got to give him that.

    December 11, 2008 03:59 pm at 3:59 pm |
  4. Ia Guy

    Only 5% success rate for faith-based programs over a 3 year period by some studies.

    "President Bush praised the effectiveness of the programs represented, most private and faith-based.

    "I'm a faith-based guy," explained Mr. Bush. "Sometimes to help change a person's behavior, you have to change their heart. Government's not really good at that."

    These programs are not effective for everyone and most people how need help don't seek it, not because they don't feel they need it, it's because the "higher power" may not be as real (or exist) at all. Being told you must believe to quit is no different than telling you must believe to be saved from Hell. Mind control and power.

    December 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  5. marc

    CNN, why are you not reporting on the scumbags recent decision to relax protections of endangered species?

    December 11, 2008 04:01 pm at 4:01 pm |
  6. TyWebb

    He tasted alcohol, but never swallowed it.

    December 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  7. Roth

    Well, he's had to live with that his whole life, I mean, every time he opens his mouth, he makes ME want to drink. Just imagine if you were him!

    December 11, 2008 04:02 pm at 4:02 pm |
  8. Ralph

    Am I the only one who sees the high correlation of addicts needing a rigid spiritual structure?

    That's fine, but people of such fragile needs should not be world leaders. One's demons must be overcome and reliance on black-and-white religious structures should be behind them.

    We need adults in the White House.

    December 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  9. Jeff M. in Nashville

    Just a quick point – you referred to some of the folks at the meeting as "recovered" addicts/alcoholics. I think "recovering" is the appropriate term. If I were "recovered" then I could go out and have a beer or two and then stop, but that's not how it works.
    Just throwing that out there.

    December 11, 2008 04:03 pm at 4:03 pm |
  10. just a thought

    But if most of that group had battled alcohol, then the "War on Drugs" campaign started by Regan never has and still does not address that wasn't their meeting proven to be a bit useless? I mean, didn't I recently read a report saying that the war on drugs campaign has been pretty ineffective? I guess with 39 days left in office, the man still cannot find one positive accomplishment for a legacy of his time in office. He could not even stop his daughters from underage drinking while Governor of Texas and as President.

    December 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  11. Mary

    There's a big difference between being an addict (until you're 40 years old), and experimenting with drugs in your teens/20s. Additionally, there's a difference between using and abusing.

    December 11, 2008 04:04 pm at 4:04 pm |
  12. Chuck in LA

    Marijuana is not harmless, but it's nowhere near as destructive as the legal drugs, alcohol an nicotine. If you've ever watched shows about addiction, you'll notice that NO ONE is ever being treated for marijuana abuse.

    Oh and by the way, the faith-based route works for some, but not for everyone.

    December 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  13. june

    Religion is only one answer, not the only answer. Those who believe otherwise don't understand the question or the answer.

    December 11, 2008 04:06 pm at 4:06 pm |
  14. Glen in Laurel, Maryland

    Can someone please explain the president's last three sentences? I'm sure it's profound but somehow I don't quite get it. Can a day be joyous without being happy? Maybe he meant to say "a gift." Yeah, that must be it...

    December 11, 2008 04:07 pm at 4:07 pm |
  15. ch

    And how many people has he driven to drink due to his Incompetence over the last 8 years?

    He wil be rightly regarded as one of the worst presidents EVER.

    December 11, 2008 04:08 pm at 4:08 pm |
  16. Anderson Cooper

    I'm drunk with power!

    December 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  17. Jeanne H.

    I would never be able to tell that this guy has been sober. Didn't seem to help his judgments much.

    December 11, 2008 04:09 pm at 4:09 pm |
  18. Paul Wall in Dallas

    I'm an unabashed liberal who voted for the President-Elect. I have agreed with very little President Bush has done or stoof for. But why does he seem so human now? I wish he had been this man at the beginning. To be public about such a private matter takes guts. I respect that, Mr. President.

    December 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  19. Greed is not good

    Yeah but what about the coke? Scott McClellan slammed Bush in his book about playing dumb about the cocaine allegations. He needs to tell the full story and quit hiding from the truth.

    December 11, 2008 04:11 pm at 4:11 pm |
  20. AJ

    Sorry, but all you need is one look at the video of Bush at the G8 summit to know what a lie his "sobriety" is. He is shown clearly pouring a beer, putting the bottle down and drinking it. The bottle is easy to identify as a Heineken. Just one more Bush lie to add to the long list.

    December 11, 2008 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |
  21. SJC

    To Senate Cadidate 13,

    You said:
    "Obama's admited Cocain, Booze and Weed habbits didn't hurt him any either."

    True, but Obama did that in High School just like Laura Bush committed manslaughter in High School.
    Bush was an alcoholic at the age of 40. I guess many Bush supporters felt being an alcoholic as an middle aged adult was just part of his well rounded qualifications to become governor and president. I'll certainly admit that experience really manifested itself the last 8 years.

    December 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  22. Paul Lennon

    This is another who care's story by that those ace reporters over at CNN.

    Where is Walter and Roger Mudd when we need them.

    December 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  23. Anonymous

    Gosh he reminds me of that alien ALF....

    December 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  24. Ernie

    God bless you Sir. Folks, if you only knew how serious this is you would not be so critical.

    December 11, 2008 04:13 pm at 4:13 pm |
  25. Tony

    Wether you like or dislike President Bush, it takes a strong person to talk about any past issues or abuse, and 22 years sober is something to be proud of!

    December 11, 2008 04:14 pm at 4:14 pm |
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