Celebrity Rehab: Negative Influence Or Positive Role Model?

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Both it seems.At least that was the opinion of rehab influencers we surveyed.
I came upon the story of Tom Hanks' son, Chester (successfully) undertaking a course of drug rehabilitation for his cocaine addiction. You can read about it here. It seems – perhaps rather shockingly – that the 'poor lad' started his drug career at the tender age of 16, and did not seek help until he was 24 years old --- an eight year interval. Perhaps rather unsympathetically of me, "Yet another celeb drug addiction" I thought to my self initially . But we all know a lack of sympathy has no place in rehab work. Ghee, I work in the rehab space and I know first-hand how powerful a course of residential rehabilitation can be… and folk's cry for help can only be a good thing. But hearing about cash rich celebrities abusing illegal drugs day-in-day out can lead one to conclude that such stories glamourize drug and alcohol use. But does it really? Or importantly does successful celebrity rehab stories provide positive role models to current addicts that there is indeed light at the end of this dark proverbial dark tunnel?

An Irrelevancy?

Maggie Telfer, CEO of Bristol Drugs Project in the United Kingdom, an organisation whose principal activity is to reduce alcohol and drug-related harm, argues celebrity drug use is an irrelevancy to most normal folk. "Is Hanks Jnr glamorising drug use? I think not" Telfer said. "People don't start or continue using drugs or alcohol because they're trying to emulate celebrities. And people running into grief because of drugs or alcohol don't stop because of a celebrity's success." "We live in a world where drugs are a fact of life and alcohol is everywhere. The key to avoiding grief is for young people to have good information to reduce risks, the confidence and skills to make their own decisions and knowing where to get help if they need it." "It's a good time to remember that the biggest barrier to getting help is other people's attitudes – usually prejudice- towards people who run into grief with drugs or alcohol. Talking about what is a very real problem can only help lower that barrier" said Telfer. "The entertainment industry and journalists have a unique power to inspire attitude and behaviour change through authentic reporting of lived experiences."

Good Headlines, Boring Headlines

 David Briskham of Twin Rivers Rehab, argues the media are only really interested headlines when it comes to drug addiction, and not about the rehabilitation process since it makes for poor headlines. "Addiction treatment centres generally get poor press and the general public have quite a number of rehab 'myths and legends' in their minds which are collectively negative" Briskham said. "A success story about a celebrity's son going to rehab will probably be judged by many sceptics who would perhaps feel that this client could 'afford' first class treatment so of course he has done well!" "Lindsay Lohan, Paul Gascoigne, Tony Adams, Robbie Williams, Ozzy Osbourne and a host of other celebrities have generated a lot of intense focus on addiction related matters through a lot of thoughtless and immature headlines which are designed to sell papers and magazines. All these stories are all based on just going in or out of rehab but there is rarely if ever a follow up!" "The general public are not particularly interested in a person's recovery journey as its not gory enough; have you ever read an article about anyone's recovery? Probably not, unless it's published in a book and so this impacts the general public in deepening their denial about what is realistically-a worldwide epidemic." "As an addictions therapist I am often asked-'what is your success rate at Twin Rivers?'. This always makes me smile as it is actually a ridiculous question which prompts less scrupulous rehabs to profess excellent success rates in order to get clients into the rehab." "I have no idea how many 'successes' there are out there but I do know that there are a number of ex-clients whose lives have vastly improved over time. Recovery is a journey and not a destination and so recovery processes vary from addict to addict". "What, unfortunately makes matters worse is that most counsellors/therapists believe themselves to be experts! Everyone's an expert! Personally, I believe all the experts are in the pub! "There is a lot of denial globally which is exacerbated by the fact that many addicts are in management (including government) who of course do not want to accept or embrace in any way the true nature of addiction and the global impact. Minimising, immature magical thinking and denial keeps the facts at bay creating false ideals and what I have discovered as a big chunk of human nature - 'actually no one really gives a f*#@k" Briskham said. Brian Dyak, President ,CEO and Co-Founder, Entertainment Industries Council (EIC), a non-profit which provides information on health and social issues among the entertainment industries, argues celeb rehab successes is a positive thing. "When someone in the public eye brings their story to the forefront, it allows others to better understand the realities of substance use disorders and to relate to the recovery process" said Dyak. "When we treat the whole person, in unity with family we see treatment works and recovery is possible. These are the powerful messages that can be expressed to the public to encourage those in need to seek help and inspire hope."

An Ambivalence You Can Be Certain About

Elan Morgan of Schmutzie feels celeb rehab stories have mixed effects on the opinions of the youth. "When I was younger, I idolized deep addiction, watching 'Sid and Nancy' repeatedly while pretending to be dangerous with a cigarette in my mouth" said Morgan. "I romanticized what I did not have direct experience with back then. Now after dealing with my own addiction and that of others, I find this kind of story hopeful. Perspective is everything."

Let's Be Fair 

Liam Mehigan, Service Manager at Abbeycare Foundation, UK based residential addiction treatment centre, argues one shouldn't separate celebrities from the rest of us when it comes to recovering from an addiction. Instead, Mehigan argues, we should all be viewed as individuals, and he commends Chester's honesty. "Chester's [hanks] honesty and forthright comments on his own recovery validate the importance of resolving the underlying emotional drivers behind addiction." "It's refreshing to see an individual involved in the glamour-filled music industry recognising this... and truly accepting responsibility for the personal issues behind addiction - the issues that drive the need for a coping mechanism like cocaine in the first place." "To make this sort of admission, whether a celebrity or not, people need to separate themselves from group thinking, and group approval - and make a decision that their own sobriety and wellbeing matters more than status or popularity" concluded Mehigan, "naturally we champion this personal honesty as part of rehab, and in fact it's an essential element of any long term recovery journey." Mitchell Giles, CEO of Lives Lived Well, an Australian drug and rehabilitation support service, agrees that celebrity rehab stories have a mixed influence on society's views towards the subject. "Media reports on celebrity rehab can have both positive and negative effects on communities, especially young people" said Giles. "The negative effects of media reports result when young people observe their favourite celebrity misusing drugs and alcohol and start to regard that behaviour as 'glamorous' and associate it with fame and success." "They then may want to emulate that unhealthy lifestyle. It is a concern when young people aspire fanatically to be like a particular celebrity, even though that celebrity is participating in values and behaviours in conflict with social norms." "Media reports that depict celebrities coming in and out through the 'revolving door' of rehab, do not reflect well on the rehabilitation process as it perhaps suggests that these programs do not work." "Media reports need to be more realistic in their coverage of recovery from addiction, showing that it is a long process, requiring much commitment, quality aftercare and other agency and community support. Recovery also needs to address the causes behind dependency." "On the other hand, positive effects of media reports can result in reporting on a celebrity who has successfully overcome a chronic dependency through committed rehabilitation as it could encourage others to seek help. Media reports have also over time helped to reduce the stigma around accessing rehab and it is now seen as a more "fashionable" thing to do. They also demonstrate that despite success, fame and riches, people can still be affected by substance misuse – showing there are no boundaries to who can be affected." "If celebrities were to offer more in-depth stories that tell of all aspects of addiction and recovery, it would be more likely to inspire others, who idolise them and who may also be experiencing similar dependency issues, to seek help and address the causes behind their drug-taking behaviours." "In Australia, we have recently seen our celebrity swimmers conduct such dialogues in the media, which has been having a positive effect in helping to break down stigmas and provide greater insight and understanding of dependency and depression. Celebrities can lead the way on healthier media reporting" concluded Giles. Conclusion Well we hope you enjoyed this article and that you feel we've provided you with some fresh prospective.   It's clear that celebrity rehab is indeed a positive thing at best, and at worst an irrelevancy... it depends who you ask! Now It's Your turn. What side of the fence do you sit on? Do you feel celebrity rehab is an irrelevancy? Or do you feel it glamorises drug use? Or do you feel it provides positive feedback that rehab is a viable option to the ordinary drug user? If you're brave enough, add a comment below.

About Author

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn

Nicholas Conn is a leading industry addiction expert who runs the UK’s largest addiction advisory service and is regularly featured in the national press, radio and TV. He is the founder and CEO of a drug and alcohol rehab center called Help4addiction, which was founded in 2015. He has been clean himself since 2009 and has worked in the Addiction and Rehab Industry for over a decade. Nick is dedicated to helping others recover and get treatment for drug and alcohol abuse. In 2013, he released a book ‘The Thin White’ line that is available on Amazon.

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