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Patrick Kennedy defends book about family’s problems

Patrick Kennedy’s book details his own struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, but also goes into details about what he said was their father’s drinking problem.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Patrick Kennedy on Sunday defended himself against criticism from relatives over revelations about his father, the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy, and other family members in his new book about substance abuse, insisting what he wrote is accurate.

Kennedy, in an interview with the Globe and in an appearance on CBS’s “60 Minutes,” acknowledged that he had created divisions in his family over what he says is members’ tendency to deny problems with addiction.

“I’m writing very truthfully,” Patrick Kennedy said during a telephone interview with the Globe Sunday while he was attending a “Unite to Face Addiction” rally in Washington, D.C.


His remarks came after his older brother, Ted Kennedy Jr., 54, said in a statement the book paints an “inaccurate and unfair portrayal of our family.’’

He added that while he admired Patrick Kennedy’s “candor about his own challenges” with addiction, he was “heartbroken” about the book.

The book details Patrick Kennedy’s own struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, but it also goes into details about what he said was their father’s drinking problem.

“My brother’s recollections of family events and particularly our parents are quite different from my own,” wrote Ted Kennedy Jr., now a Connecticut state senator. “Our father was a man with an extraordinary capacity for empathy and intimacy who cherished many lifelong friendships; my dad and I shared a deep, emotional bond.”

He also said that, “Mental illness and addiction are critically important issues that deserve a serious discussion — not a narrative that is misleading and hurtful.”

In a telephone interview with the Globe on Sunday afternoon, Patrick Kennedy said he defends every word of his book, “A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction,” published by Blue Rider Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.


He told the Globe that his book has one supporter within the family: His mother, Joan Kennedy, who has battled her own addiction issues, helped him with the project.

But Patrick Kennedy, a 48-year-old former congressman from Rhode Island, said he believes his older brother and his stepmother, Vicki Kennedy, are displeased. He said Vicki did not speak to him directly, though he presumes that she has the “same discomfort” as Ted Jr. Kennedy said his brother and stepmother were each given a copy of the book before this weekend. The book is set to be released Monday.

In a Sunday night interview on “60 Minutes,” Patrick Kennedy explained that writing the book had left him “outside the family line.”

Attempts to reach Ted Kennedy Jr., Joan Kennedy, and Vicki Kennedy were unsuccessful.

Senator Edward M. Kennedy (right) and his son, Patrick, rode the Wildcat roller coaster at Riverside Amusement Park in Agawam, Mass., in 1979.Joe Dennehy/Globe Staff/File/Globe Staff

Meanwhile, Patrick Kennedy said he first considered writing about his — and his family’s — struggles with mental illness and substance abuse in 2011, after he retired from eight terms in Congress. But he ultimately decided it was “premature.”

He said he had yet to establish a strong track record in his recovery.

“I was still early on in my sobriety,” he said.

Patrick Kennedy, who said he copes with bipolar disorder, said he has abstained from alcohol and illicit drugs for more than four years, starting on Feb. 22, 2011 — the date of his father’s birthday and two years after his father’s death. He felt it was time for him to write about this critical issue affecting one of the most storied political families in America, as well as countless other families.


As he described it, his wife never expected that anniversary of his father’s birthday would mark a new beginning.

“I was still reeling from his loss,” said Patrick Kennedy. “My wife expected me to go on a bender.”

But, he said, he put one foot in front of the other and stayed sober for that day. Then he went to 12-step meetings and consistently began attending support programs.

“I knew this was a demarcation for me. I started counting my days,” he said.

Patrick Kennedy described, however, a legacy of mental health and addiction problems in his family.

In the book, he wrote about his decision not to attend his father’s 60th birthday party if he didn’t stop drinking. He also described an emotional day when he and his siblings staged an “intervention” with their father, hoping to shake him into seeing the depth of his alcohol addiction. He said it was a tearful occasion, but it ended up backfiring when his father became defensive and abruptly left the room.

Patrick Kennedy acknowledged that his father endured profound losses, including the deaths of his brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, and he said he thinks that his father had an undiagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder from those assassinations.

“I saw my father live in silent desperation,” Patrick Kennedy told “60 Minutes.’’

When he was growing up, he said, no one spoke about mental illness or addiction. He broke the conspiracy of silence that existed within the Kennedy family by revealing his own addiction, as well as the struggles of his mother and father.


“I was hostage to the family code,” Kennedy said on “60 Minutes.” “Anything you say, it’s disloyal. It’s against the family code.”

He said his book reflected his own new beginning, including his post-retirement life that included marriage and two children.

Patrick Kennedy is proud about being sober for more than four and a half years, more than doubling his previous longest stretch of sobriety. That began in 2006 after he was on probation and went through treatment following his infamous 2006 car accident at the US Capitol when he drove into a barricade and was observed deeply intoxicated by authorities.

He soon admitted to being addicted to prescription pills.

Now he said he is dedicating his life to showing that mental illness and substance abuse are “symptoms of a brain illness” and little different from other physical diseases, such as diabetes.

Only when society understands this, he said, will it begin to shed “the stigma and shame that has long been associated with these issues.”

Globe correspondent Aneri Pattani contributed to this report. Patricia Wen can be reached at wen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobePatty.

Correction: Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this story provided the wrong name for the publisher.