Every time the death of an addiction-troubled celebrity – such as the recent suicide of country singer, Mindy McCready – makes headlines, my heart aches, as it does over the loss of anyone who suffered from a drug or alcohol problem. But somehow, celebrity deaths hit deeper, not only because the whole world gets the news 24/7, but because it makes us wonder, “How did this happen, when they had it all – when they could afford the best of care, and when their fans were all rooting for them?”
The truth is, addiction afflicts celebrities just as it does the rest of us. In some ways, it can be worse because of always being in the public eye, with everyone watching for the next screw-up with drugs, alcohol, or personal relationships. Then, when they go to rehab, the programs stars and starlets frequent are subject to the same issues that I found endemic to the addiction treatment system in general.
As I toured programs for my book, Inside Rehab: The Surprising Truth About Addiction Treatment – And How to Get Help That Works, I had the opportunity to visit several facilities that have reputations as “celebrity rehabs” and/or reported to have served famous clients. I also interviewed some everyday people who went to facilities known as celebrity rehabs.
So what did I learn and what are my thoughts about these facilities?
In the first place, I don’t think they necessarily like being known as “celebrity rehabs”. At Promises Treatment Centers, where I was welcomed for a two-day visit, the staff said they’d rather not be labeled that way, preferring to emphasize the quality of their treatment. (In fact, I was told that celebrities compose less than 10 percent of their caseload.) And although it’s been reported that both Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan were treated there in 2007, any reputable facility won’t reveal names of clients, past or present. While privacy and confidentiality were important at all 15 programs I visited, they were given the greatest emphasis at Promises – it was the only place that did not allow me to meet any clients who were in treatment. Should I see a celebrity, it was suggested, I should look the other way. I was also told that they rarely grant requests for visits like mine, and that they’d carefully vetted me beforehand.
Secondly, I believe that so-called celebrity rehabs are often given an unfair rap. For instance, I recall one that was criticized for allowing actors to leave rehab temporarily to do their jobs. To me, it makes perfect sense to enable people to function in their daily lives at the same time that they’re trying to sort out their substance abuse problems and not to isolate them from the world to which they’ll have to return.
The public seems to perceive such rehabs as glamorous places where clients are waited on, getting their nails done, and sitting by the sea in fancy suites. However, I found that a number of places known as celeb rehabs are not like this at all and, in fact, are rather unpretentious facilities, some even with dormitory-like shared bedrooms that simply focus on providing treatment, not amenities.
For those rehabs that are more luxurious, I personally have no problem with anyone, including celebrities, being very comfortable while recovering from what ails them.The idea that you should be denied the right to be comfortable and in a nice place because you’re supposed to be "doing the hard work of treatment" is absurd and harkens back to old-fashioned confrontational approaches used with addicts and alcoholics to “tear them down and then build them back up again.” (Such approaches have been found to be among the least effective for recovery.) If you can afford to go to a rehab with nice surroundings and amenities that – most importantly – provides quality treatment, then why not go to a place like this?
When I asked David Sack, MD, CEO of Elements Behavioral Health, the company that owns Promises, about criticisms leveled at celebrity rehabs for their ocean views and high-thread-count sheets, he said, “More often than not, people agree to go to treatment because of a crisis, not because they’ve decided to quit using drugs or alcohol. Our job is to respectfully help clients see the value in a life free from drugs or alcohol. But if you want them to stay long enough to benefit from treatment, you have to create a relationship with them in the context of their ambivalence about changing. One of the ways we accomplish that is through a physical environment that’s restful, beautiful, comforting, and familiar so that clients can focus on their core problems.” And unlike programs that preach “all addicts are the same”, Promises’ philosophy has long been that people tend to have better outcomes when treated with others who are similar to them socially, educationally, and economically.
What have you heard about “celebrity rehab” and what do you think about it? Have you personally had any experiences at such facilities that you’d like to share? (Part 2 will address some of the issues and concerns I have about “Celebrity Rehabs”.)
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Copyright Anne M. Fletcher