Kathryn Burgum, wife of Gov. Doug Burgum, opens up about mental health advocacy, struggle with addiction

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is a Republican candidate for president.

October 20, 2023, 12:38 PM

The wife of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, a Republican presidential candidate, is opening up about her long struggle with alcoholism, her path to sobriety and how the experience inspired her to become an advocate for eliminating the stigma around addiction and mental health.

As part of ABC News' "Running Mates" series, Kathryn Burgum sat down with Linsey Davis for a wide-ranging conversation on ABC News Live Prime, alongside her husband, who also spoke with Davis about why he's running for president.

Burgum said her platform as first lady of the U.S. would be around the “behavior health crisis.” She also spoke about how she and her husband met and why she believes he would make a good president.

PHOTO: North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Kathryn Burgum are seen in an interview.
North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum and Kathryn Burgum are seen in an interview.
ABC News

LINSEY DAVIS: Kathryn, do you remember the moment that you thought, “I want to marry this man?”

KATHRYN BURGUM: We were together a long time before we decided to get married. I'd been married, he’d been married, and we sort of thought, maybe we would try a relationship without marriage, because that didn't work so well for us. But then there was a point in time, actually, at a barn with our horses, where he completely surprised me and proposed, and so it was easy to say yes.

DAVIS: What made you fall in love with him, and what aspect of him do you feel that, if they were to know him, they they'd also fall in love?

K. BURGUM: He’s so thoughtful. I mean, he remembers everybody's birthdays, remembers anniversaries, you know, remembers kids’ names, remembers your high school mascot. And yours is the fox, right?

DAVIS: Yes, oh my goodness. Wow, I am impressed.

DOUG BURGUM: Had to look it up last night.

DAVIS: Talk to me about John Deere and working there for your first job.

K. BURGUM: Yeah, my family's in the John Deere business. I really started working there when I was in grade school. I come from a very hardworking family and, you know, [have] principles the same as my husband, you know, trust. You've got to build trust with these farmers, because it's a generational transaction.

DAVIS: You've talked quite openly and often about struggling with alcohol and addiction, now 21 years sober. Do you remember the moment when you realized “I'm an alcoholic?”

K. BURGUM: Oh, yeah. I mean, I actually knew when I was in college. I would try to stop drinking, and I couldn't. There was a two-decade struggle. I never reached out for help, or hardly, because of the stigma of addiction. But there was a point in time where I guess I was suicidal at the end of my drinking. And there was a point in time where I just, I had faith that there is God, but I wasn't part of an organized religion. And I was out walking. I always get emotional when I tell this story, but I just said, "If there's anybody out there, I need help." And I've been sober since I uttered those words. So, you know, that was a miracle for me, because I spent a lot of years relapsing and, you know, and suicidal. So, I'm so grateful to be here today.

PHOTO: Kathryn Burgum, the wife of presidential candidate and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, is seen an interview.
Kathryn Burgum, the wife of presidential candidate and North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum, is seen an interview.
ABC News

DAVIS: What got you to that point to utter those words?

K. BURGUM: Well, it was the, you know, I had untreated depression and alcohol is a depressant. And so, I mean, I went to low depths I never thought I would be in. I knew that if I didn't do something, you know, because I had been to treatment and so yeah, you know, it was kind of a miracle for me.

DAVIS: What ultimately worked. You said you had tried treatment before.

K. BURGUM: Yeah. I had a good friend who was an addiction counselor, and she said, you know, you got to be with people that are like you. And so I found this great group of, like, my tribe, you know, like this great group of people that were struggling with the same things I struggled with. We got together. We spent a lot of time together. We focused on faith, service to others, truth, honesty, you know, all the things that are really important for being a, you know, a human being that is of service and honesty is a big part of that. So, I still have those friends today. They're deeply embedded in my life and dear, dear, dear friends.

D. BURGUM: The thing that Kathryn has that impresses me so much is her courage. I mean, her willingness to put herself out there and tell her story has changed lives and saved lives. I've seen it in action. I've seen it in the work that she's done here in North Dakota, and I have had so many people come up to me and share that with me about that, that her courage has meant and inspired them. I love her more now than ever before, because it's just so impressive that for people to have the courage today, in today's environment, to get out there and do that.

DAVIS: Do you still go to meetings?

K. BURGUM: I am involved in a community, yes, that is focused on supporting each other.

DAVIS: If you are to become first lady, what would be your platform?

K. BURGUM: The behavioral health crisis. There's so much stigma around mental health, brain health, the disease of addiction. We need more services. We need insurance to change. We need stigma to be eliminated in health care.

DAVIS: Why do you think that Doug would make a great president of the United States.

K. BURGUM: Because he’s [an] incredible leader. I mean, more than anything, he’s a leader in the community, he’s a leader in the business world, he’s a leader in philanthropy. He knows how to bring teams together. He knows how to unite people to solve problems. He understands that success of our nation starts with one community at a time.