This morning, Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., woke up in the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. He checked in yesterday, having swerved his car into a barricade near the Capitol on Wednesday night. This is his second visit to Mayo since Christmas to seek treatment for addiction to prescription drugs.
Addiction specialists say that while relapses are common for people with addiction, they can recover and lead productive lives and hold positions of power.
"We need to be cognizant of the fact that he has this disease," said Dr. Harris Stratyner, clinical director of Addiction Recovery Services at the Mount Sinai hospital in New York City, who has not treated Kennedy. "Addiction is primary, progressive, chronic and, if not treated, fatal."
Before checking in last night, Kennedy told reporters he had no memory of his early-morning accident, during which he has admitted to be under the influence of Ambien and an anti-nausea drug, and he admitted he needed help.
"In all candor, the incident on Wednesday evening concerns me greatly," Kennedy said. "I simply do not remember getting out of bed, being pulled over by the police, or being cited for three driving infractions."
"I struggle every day with this disease, as do millions of Americans," he added.
Kennedy did not take questions at the press conference he held before checking into the clinic, but as he was leaving one reporter asked if he planned to resign, to which he said, "No, I need to stay in the fight."
Stratyner said he believed Kennedy can continue to serve the people of Rhode Island.
"Millions of Americans and millions of people across the world have addiction and you would be amazed at the positions of power they are in," Stratyner said. "We are humans, and we need to feel for him."
Kennedy said he hopes his openness about his addiction and seeking help for it will give others' encouragement.
At rehab, Kennedy will learn the "importance of understanding prevention, the triggers that set him off, and the environmental stressors in his," Stratyner said.
Relapse triggers can often be "unconscious," he added.
"There are things that happen long before a relapses," Straytner said. "He may have gone to his internist, been given medication for sleep or allergies, and next thing we know, we are off to the races."
Kennedy had perscriptions for both Ambien and the anti-nausea drug. That anti-nausea drug "can be used to augment the affects of painkillers," Stratyner said.
Curse of the Kennedys?
This is not the first time the 38-year-old Kennedy has publicly admitted his personal flaws. He has acknowledged seeking therapy for depression and spent time in drug rehab as a high school senior.
His struggle with substance abuse is reminiscent of what's plagued his family -- his parents, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Joan Kennedy , both have had public battles with alcohol.
Sen. Kennedy issued a statement yesterday afternoon saying, "All of us in the family admire [Patrick's] courage in speaking publicly about very personal issues and fully support his decision to seek treatment."
The police report of Kennedy's car crash showed officers on the scene suspected he was under the influence of alcohol, describing "red eyes" and "slurred" speech. Kennedy said that he had not been drinking.
Stratyner said Kennedy will have to work hard to beat his addiction.
"He faces certainly going through the importance of understanding relapse prevention, the triggers that set him off and the environmental stressors in his life," Stratyner said.