TORONTO - Rob Ford's mother proclaimed her son was no addict, attributing his myriad public woes to a bit of extra weight.
Doug Ford supported his brother with equal gusto, accusing the media of targeting the Toronto mayor after allegations of illegal drug use surfaced last year and offering tips to keep the mayor's partying out of the public eye.
Even his sister Kathy, a self-proclaimed former heroin user, said last year that her brother Rob's fondness for occasional drinking binges didn't mean he was a drug addict.
Now the mayor has reversed months of denials of a substance abuse problem by taking leave to seek treatment for "problems with alcohol," and experts are urging those closest to him to follow his about-face.
Dennis Long, executive director of Toronto based Breakaway Addiction Services, says Ford's very public struggles with both drugs and alcohol are not surprising given his family members' attitudes.
While stopping short of calling the Fords enablers, describing the word as a simplistic term, Long said their persistent denials have had an unmistakable impact on the mayor throughout the year-long saga.
"Families can be immensely helpful if they are supportive of someone changing their behaviour. They can be quite an impediment if they aren't," Long said in a telephone interview. "A lot of times that's because they don't know the extent of the problem... or they wilfully are trying to ignore it... or it's a well-ingrained family behaviour pattern."
When rumours of a video purportedly showing the mayor smoking what appeared to be crack cocaine first surfaced and Rob Ford emerged to issue a categorical denial of any drug use, brother Doug was right by his side offering tacit support of his claims.
Months later, when Toronto police confirmed the existence of the video, Doug was still on hand to cheerlead his brother, saying on the radio show the pair once co-hosted that his brother was "honest as the day is long" and offering some advice for the next time he felt like a drink.
“You’re going to curb your drinking, especially in public," Doug Ford said on the Nov. 3 broadcast. "Stay in your basement, have a few pops. That’s it.”
Five days later, after Rob Ford had confessed to smoking crack in one of his "drunken stupors," Doug took a slightly firmer stand but still said his brother could win re-election.
``If Rob goes on a little vacation, a week or two weeks, comes back, Rob loses 50, 60 pounds, stays on the straight and narrow because he's a good, good man and he's an honest man, it would be tough to beat Rob Ford,'' Ford told a local radio station.
Doug Ford wasn't the only one to see his brother's weight as the primary issue. In a rare television interview with Toronto's CP24, matriarch Diane Ford chalked up her son's troubles to the fact that he tips the scales at more than 300 pounds.
"He's got a weight problem'' that affects his demeanour, she said. "He's got a huge weight problem and he knows that. And I think that is the first thing he has to attack.''
Sister Kathy also took part in the interview, adding her brother could not function as mayor if he had descended to the levels of addiction she herself had plumbed while hooked on heroin.
"Robbie is not a drug addict. I know because I'm a former addict," she said while acknowledging that her brother did go "full tilt" on those occasions when he did decide to drink.
Some of the latest allegations of drug use surrounding Rob Ford focus on a video allegedly shot in Kathy Ford's home.
The Globe and Mail has reported the existence of a second so-called crack video, reportedly shot this past weekend. The Canadian Press has not seen the video and cannot verify its existence.
Experts say the family's statements and actions are fairly typical among relatives of addicts, and may even have contributed to the problem.
Rebecca Jesseman, Research and Policy Analyst with the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, said the decision to seek rehab may be just as difficult for family members to face as it is for the addict.
Accepting the move means confronting beliefs about loved ones and conquering a social stigma that still has great power, she said.
"We know that it's very difficult to confront or speak to a family member about their substance abuse, that it's often easier to look the other way than to challenge the people we love," she said. "Unfortunately, doing things like making jokes about addiction can also contribute to the stigma and the shame that the individual is feeling."
The Fords' reactions throughout the day on Thursday illustrated the emotional toll the situation can take.
Hours after Rob surreptitiously left the city to seek treatment, Doug Ford held an emotional press conference. Gone was his usually combative tone as he audibly choked back tears and expressed support for the mayor's decision to seek treatment.
"I encourage my brother to take this time for himself and for the sake of his family," Doug said. "Many people believe they can handle any problem by themselves, however, sometimes you need the help of your family, your friends and professionals.
Jesseman agreed, saying family support can go far towards enhancing in-patient treatment.
"One thing we do know is that involving family members in the treatment process can actually improve the client's treatment outcome," she said.
But both Jesseman and Long believe that involvement can't come without attitude adjustments that aren't always easy to pull off.
Diane's reaction, as documented by a local television reporter, summed up the road the experts believe the family must follow if it hopes to see the mayor shake his demons once and for all.
She struck a defensive tone in proclaiming that she didn't know how her son spent every minute of his day, but when asked if she was prepared to acknowledge her son had a drug problem, Diane softly replied, "I guess I have to."
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