Dr. Joseph A. Pursch, a nationally recognized psychiatrist who has treated such celebrities as Betty Ford, the late Billy Carter and astronaut Buzz Aldrin for chemical dependency, will bring Utahns some hard pills to swallow.
"Chemical dependency is a disease, not a religious or moral problem or weakness and should not be seen as such," the California physician told the Deseret News. "It's also a family disease. You cannot become, and remain an alcoholic unless several other people are helping you stay sick - and get sicker."That notion tends to raise eyebrows and arouse groans of indignation from audiences Pursch addresses around the world.
He expects similar reactions when he speaks Wednesday in Salt Lake City.
Pursch, a consultant with Community Psychiatric Centers in Laguna Hills, Calif., will talk with local mental health professionals at 9 a.m. A public lecture will be held at 7:30 p.m. Both speeches, co-sponsored by Salt Lake Community College, will be at CPC Olympus View Hospital, 1430 E. 45th South.
The psychiatrist, whose seminars are warm and humorous, is convinced that many families are hurting, rather than helping, alcoholic members.
"If a man is an alcoholic and his wife gets on the phone to the boss and says her husband's back is out again, she is helping him to become a sicker alcoholic than he was yesterday," Pursch said.
Yet the wife, he said, can have the purest of motives - or not so pure motives. Her motives could be to save face or protect the family name and income.
These cover-up tactics, Pursch said, are particularly devastating for the VIP alcoholic or addict, who not only has a wife to cover up for him - but a whole city.
"When it's mayor of the city or manager of a championship professional ball club or a woman congressman, the whole state will lie about it for quite a long time."
Pursch said it's the family's responsibility to help get the chemically dependent person into treatment. It's also the family's obligation to ensure the alcoholic isn't being "doped up" by the physician.
"Women alcoholics get done in by doctors, because it's unchristian, unjewish, unmoslem for a doctor to look a female patient in the eye and question her or tell her she may have alcoholism," he said. "The easier course is to smile, prescribe more Valium and sweep the whole thing under the rug.
"You avoid an argument, save face and prevent losing the business of the whole Johnson family."
A startling notion? Perhaps. But Pursch's conclusions were reached from a long and varied career in the field of mental health.
During his distinguished military career, he headed the Division of Psychiatry at the Naval Aerospace Medical Institute, and was chief of the Neuropsychiatry Clinic of the Naval Dispensary in Washington, D.C. He also served on the Chief of Naval Operations' Drug Abuse Team.
His advice, given to patients in his private practice, is also read by millions in his nationally syndicated column "Dry Doc" and in his book, "Dear Doc."
In addition to numerous celebrities, he has also treated 400 airline pilots who are recovering alcoholics, and are still flying.
He said they alone are evidence of the importance of intervention. A family meeting arranged by a doctor or therapist is necessary to help the Jones family get Mr. Jones into treatment.
"Society has to demolish the old myth that we have to wait until the alcoholic hits rock bottom, or you can't help him until he asks for it."