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VH1’s Celebrity Rehab Reality Show: Unlikely to be Addicting

Last night I watched the premier of VH1’s new “Celebrity Rehab” reality show with Dr. Drew Pinsky, an M.D. and popular TV and radio personality. Before turning on the TV, I had my own reservations about making a spectacle out of alcohol and drug addiction. But I hoped that the show would help to unglamorize the Hollywood drug culture and dissuade young men and women from idolizing bad behavior. As a physician who helped run a detox unit in New York City, I was also curious to see whether or not this “rehab” resembled real-world drug rehabilitation.

Overall, I was sorely disappointed. The only realistic part of the show involved actor Jeff Conaway (of “Grease” and “Taxi” fame), who was the most impaired and ill of the group. His speech and behaviors were typical of a man so wracked by drug and alcohol addiction that he needed a wheelchair for mobility. It was tragic to see him in such a self-destructive state, and witnessing his condition was a real wake-up call for anyone considering starting down that path. As for the rest of the stars, they seemed to be more interested in getting attention from the camera than turning their lives around and breaking their addictive behaviors.

The good

“Celebrity Rehab” may have some “shock value,” as it offers viewers some footage of individuals whose addictions have destroyed their lives. Although Jeff Conaway’s situation is certainly tragic and unappealing, the other stars still maintain some degree of  “coolness” -which may be counterproductive for a young audience.

The bad

Overall, the dialogue is quite dull – which comes as no surprise since the individuals being videotaped were often inebriated or high on cocaine. The desire for true change does not come through in the celebrity stories, as best evidenced by a conversation between Dr. Drew and former professional wrestler Chyna (aka Joan Marie Laurer). Dr. Drew asks Chyna why she has come to “Celebrity Rehab,” and she responds with a shrug and says: “I don’t know.” Not compelling television.

I had the feeling that empathetic counseling is not Dr. Drew’s forte. In his attempt to show tough love mixed with detailed history taking, he comes off as aloof and uncaring. He is neither believable nor inspirational as a change agent. This disconnect makes it hard to believe that “Celebrity Rehab” is going to turn anyone’s life around.

Of course, the plush set, the comfortable celebrity quarters and the trendy clothing bear no resemblance to real drug rehab centers, where facilities are bare-bones and clinical and all patients wear standard uniforms. The lack of case managers, nursing staff and therapists was also notable – as the normal team approach was spun unconvincingly as a one-man Dr. Drew show. And of course, inpatient drug rehabilitation centers in the real world are NEVER co-ed.

The ugly

Some of the footage was so clearly contrived as to be annoying. Provocative pseudo “conflicts” were created in an attempt to maintain viewer interest. At one point, porn star (and attention-grabbing yet unrealistic 2003 California gubernatorial candidate) Mary Carey makes a fuss about having her dildos confiscated and then asks fellow patient Seth Binzer (lead singer of the rap-rock band Crazy Town) if he’ll have sex with her. This type of interaction really devalues the show and further undermines the credibility of the ongoing rehabilitation. Parents should wonder if exposure to this sort of material is more of a harm than a help to their tweens and teens.

In the final analysis, “Celebrity Rehab” has all the makings of a failure “me-too” reality show, relying on sensationalism to lure viewers. Recycled reality TV celebrities prance about the show in low-cut dresses while Dr. Drew makes uninsightful therapeutic gestures in a rehabilitation setting that’s not designed to truly affect change. I believe that drug and alcohol addiction deserves a more sincere and thoughtful analysis — something that an experienced documentary producer could achieve more effectively. I fear that the screenwriter’s strike will result in even more poor quality reality shows in the near term.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.


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3 Responses to “VH1’s Celebrity Rehab Reality Show: Unlikely to be Addicting”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I would have to agree about the lack of value inherent in a reality show that caters to this narcissistic, shallow ‘F-list’ wannabe crowd. The most useful part of the show may be that some people who are resistant to entering a rehab may change their mind after seeing this show and will become knowledgeable about the treatment if their drug/ alcohol use has reached a problematic stage. Also, Dr. Drew has always appeared to be more of an intellectual authority rather than someone that would be adept at counseling, so I am not surprised that he comes off as detached. However, I have to disagree that there are no coed rehabs and that patients have to wear uniforms- that is not the norm at all based on my employment experience.

  2. boopadoop1 says:

    I would just like to say I “”Love”” the show. It is very painful to me but it helps me remember what I went through with my son. He was using alcohol and drugs starting at a very young age. I didn’t notice it because his father was an alcoholic so I always had to watch him. I had to turn to my daughter (4) years older then my son and very CLEAN and so against drugs and alcohol that it was never discussed.  It was that elephant in the middle of the room. I think Dr. Drew does a wonderful job. The problem is I am so worried about Jeff. I just know he is going to die. Someone has to do something about his girlfriend. Bringing alcohol onto the grounds. She brings Norco in her purse. Just tonight, Feb 14th she was so worried about how she was going to survive if she got a migraine and needed a drink of alcohol because it makes it better. Well, that is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard of. I have suffered with migraines since I was 17 and I am now 56. If you really have a migraine your throwing up or at least your stomach is so upset I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol . I remember one time I had a headache so bad as I was crawling to the bathroom hoping I would get there before I threw up all over the floor I told my husband at the time to take me to the hospital. I didn’t care if they had to cut off my head, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I am not with my husband anymore he just never believed I would leave him but I couldn’t take it anymore after realizing what it was doing to my family. I tried to at least live in the same house so he would have some supervision when he was 14 but he let me know when he was 16 that wasn’t the right thing either. Anyway he is now 32 and has been sober for 11 years. But it was a very long road, and continues to be.I want to get back to Jeff, I suffer from severe pain from Fibromyalgia, Rhumatoid Arthritis, Panic attacks and a few other things. I was wondering if you have a hot tub? For Therapy only! If I exercise in my hot tub at least 3-5 days a week I can walk. Otherwise sometimes I try to get up and my knees and back lock up and you can actually hear the bones craking. It’s so painful. But the level of pain really goes down if workout in the hot water.It would be nice if someone could keep me posted on Jeff he is so sweet. That is when Vicki isn’t there or on the phone pushing his buttons to piss him off because she doesn’t want him to prevail she wants him to fail because what’s going to happen to her if he sticks with his guns and really is going to save his life this time. He could send me an e-mail if he would like to talk to someone. If they are aloud to do that. Jeff your worth it……and don’t let anyone take you down. You don’t need that stuff you just need to find someone that really cares about you and will help you through this.Friends are the **Greatest** thing in the world!!

  3. boopadoop1 says:

    I would just like to say I “”Love”” the show. It is very painful to me but it helps me remember what I went through with my son. He was using alcohol and drugs starting at a very young age. I didn’t notice it because his father was an alcoholic so I always had to watch him. I had to turn to my daughter (4) years older then my son and very CLEAN and so against drugs and alcohol that it was never discussed.  It was that elephant in the middle of the room. I think Dr. Drew does a wonderful job. The problem is I am so worried about Jeff. I just know he is going to die. Someone has to do something about his girlfriend. Bringing alcohol onto the grounds. She brings Norco in her purse. Just tonight, Feb 14th she was so worried about how she was going to survive if she got a migraine and needed a drink of alcohol because it makes it better. Well, that is the most rediculous thing I have ever heard of. I have suffered with migraines since I was 17 and I am now 56. If you really have a migraine your throwing up or at least your stomach is so upset I couldn’t imagine drinking alcohol . I remember one time I had a headache so bad as I was crawling to the bathroom hoping I would get there before I threw up all over the floor I told my husband at the time to take me to the hospital. I didn’t care if they had to cut off my head, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I am not with my husband anymore he just never believed I would leave him but I couldn’t take it anymore after realizing what it was doing to my family. I tried to at least live in the same house so he would have some supervision when he was 14 but he let me know when he was 16 that wasn’t the right thing either. Anyway he is now 32 and has been sober for 11 years. But it was a very long road, and continues to be.I want to get back to Jeff, I suffer from severe pain from Fibromyalgia, Rhumatoid Arthritis, Panic attacks and a few other things. I was wondering if you have a hot tub? For Therapy only! If I exercise in my hot tub at least 3-5 days a week I can walk. Otherwise sometimes I try to get up and my knees and back lock up and you can actually hear the bones craking. It’s so painful. But the level of pain really goes down if workout in the hot water.It would be nice if someone could keep me posted on Jeff he is so sweet. That is when Vicki isn’t there or on the phone pushing his buttons to piss him off because she doesn’t want him to prevail she wants him to fail because what’s going to happen to her if he sticks with his guns and really is going to save his life this time. He could send me an e-mail if he would like to talk to someone. If they are aloud to do that. Jeff your worth it……and don’t let anyone take you down. You don’t need that stuff you just need to find someone that really cares about you and will help you through this.Friends are the **Greatest** thing in the world!!

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