Celeb stints put negative spotlight on rehab

Treatment industry pros fear stars using rehab as a retreat will detract from the realities of addiction

Treatment industry pros fear stars using rehab as a retreat will detract from the realities of addiction

When Lindsay Lohan entered the Promises addiction treatment facility last week for her second attempt at rehab in less than five months, it offered the media yet another opportunity to dissect the troubled starlet's wild ways.

For celebrities attempting to cleanse themselves of compulsive behavior - and, at times, tarnished images - a quick trip to rehab seems to be the PR plan of the year. And as competitiveness within the detox center industry itself increases, a conventional wisdom would suggest that clinics could do worse than boast an A-list crowd of allegedly chemical-dependent celebrity "guests."

But communications professionals in the rehabilitation and substance abuse community feel that the rampant high-profile celebrity stints in rehab negatively affect the true goals of the industry.

"The Malibu market as a whole has suffered greatly by the absurd spectacle" of Lohan et al, says Ted Jackson, publisher and editor of the addiction industry trade Treatment Magazine.

"You're either in treatment, or you're not," he says. When celebrities treat rehab clinics like high-end spa retreats or strategic career moves, "the reputation of the entire Malibu market suffers [among] serious medical professionals."

"We cringe at use of the word rehab, especially its usage over the last several months," says Russ Patrick, PR consultant for Rancho Mirage, CA-based Betty Ford Center. "It's cheapened to a $2 word; it implies that getting your life back, embarking on a lifetime sobriety journey is something easy, something easily achievable. The truth is, it is not."

Though Betty Ford has seen its share of high-profile clientele, the facility "has always managed to maintain its serious position within the industry," Jackson says. "Somehow, the nature of the coverage seemed more dignified," which might be attributed to the fact that it is an "addiction treatment hospital," as opposed to an exclusive seaside healing facility. Easy access to cameras and cell phones is not part of the treatment process.

But not everyone thinks the exposure is bad.

"It's actually a great day to be involved in treatment because of the exposure we're getting in the media," says Jerry O'Day, marketing director at Seattle's Schick Shadel detoxification hospital.

For women in particular, the coverage seems to have made them more comfortable with considering treatment as an option. At Schick, O'Day says, "We used to have one woman for every nine patients. Now, it's half and half."

Jackson notes that celebrities have long gone to treatment centers in Malibu, which since the late '80s has been home to "a mini cottage industry [of] pioneers of very high-end addiction treatment experience."

He explains that the so-called Malibu market clinics have long "vied between each other to get celebrity clientele because that's how in the past they quietly marketed."

But now, Jackson says, in a culture in which any kind of celebrity endorsement is akin to a stamp of royal approval, those efforts are "not so quiet anymore."

"I think that's largely due to the larger shift in how the media covers not just the entertainment industry, but the world in general - on an instantaneous basis," says Eddie Michaels, president of LA-based publicity firm Insignia and former PR rep for Promises, a Malibu treatment center which serves as Lohan's occasional weekend getaway.

While high-profile addicts were once able to enter treatment without the glare of the spotlight, heightened media interest now makes every move open to public scrutiny, Michaels says. "That pressure is put on people seeking treatment only adds to the complexity of finding their way to being healthy," he says. "That's unfortunate."

But what is potentially damaging to a clinic's reputation, Jackson says, is media coverage of former patients' relapses.

"Most people don't understand that relapse is standard no matter where you're coming from," he says.

"Coming out and being helped: That's the number one reason to go," Michaels says. "When [an addict] is seeking true treatment for addiction, whatever gets them into treatment is a good thing."

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