Do Celebrity Rehabs Work?

Why some substance abuse facilities work -- and others are just luxurious hideaways.

Medically Reviewed by Patricia A. Farrell, PhD on May 28, 2008
3 min read

Amy Winehouse may diss addiction recovery centers (she sings “no, no, no!” in her hit song “Rehab,” after all). But the beehive-tressed crooner did check in to one just two weeks before the tune helped her win four Grammys this past February. She surely saw other VIPs there. Boldfacers have been slipping in and out of rehabilitation centers since the first tabloid was there to tell the tale. But do these luxe facilities really help clients kick addictions, or are they just exclusive hideaways where the privileged can cool their heels until the current crisis passes?

The answer depends on both the center and the patient, says Drew Pinsky, MD, host of VH1’s Celebrity Rehab With Dr. Drew and medical director of the department of chemical dependency services at Southern California’s Las Encinas Hospital.

“Most aren’t treatment centers, they are housing situations,” says Pinsky. “Any facility that supports the sense of specialness of a celebrity and gives massage therapies and other nonmedical-based treatments at the exclusion of proven treatments is just a spa.” Highly exclusive spas at that, with some centers commanding an estimated $60,000 per month.

But not all celebrity rehab centers are farces, say addiction experts. The legitimate ones are run by doctors certified in addiction medicine and staffed by doctors and nurses around the clock to monitor the often intense physical and psychological withdrawal symptoms and treatment progress.

While all addiction recovery programs are different, “almost all residential rehabilitation centers have a strong 12-step orientation,” says Marc Galanter, MD, a professor of psychiatry and director of the division of alcoholism and drug abuse at New York University Medical Center in New York City. Most residential programs begin with a period of withdrawal and detoxification. Learn more about the difference between detox and rehab.

Whether located in a hospital setting or on the beach in Malibu, in-patient rehabilitation stays can be effective only if treatment continues after discharge. “They can work, but they do have high relapse rates within months following discharge,” says Galanter. “It is very important that anyone going to rehab have effective follow-up after discharge. Rehab is a short-term-step on the road to recovery.”

If you think you might have a substance addiction, use these expert tips to change your bad behavior once and for all.

  • Talk to yourself about your addiction. In celebrity rehab programs, patients must devote time and energy to understanding why they became addicts in the first place. “Sit down and do some accounting,” says Jon Morgenstern, PhD, director of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse Treatment at Columbia University in New York City.
  • Get support for your recovery. Staying clean and sober starts with avoiding the people and places most associated with the addictive behavior. “Surround yourself with trusted friends, talk to them, and enlist their support,” Morgenstern says.
  • Use relaxation for addiction recovery. Stress sets the stage for unhealthy behaviors. “Get more sleep, try to avoid getting upset, and engage in regular exercise,” Morgenstern says.
  • Put yourself and your recovery first. “Change takes a lot of effort, so it needs to be a priority, and that means other things in your life must take a backseat while you focus,” Morgenstern says.