the last 20 years, the topics of substance use and treatment have
become the stuff of televised entertainment: heart-wrenching
stories of desperation and redemption, of suffering and survival.
Shows like A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr.
Drew, which depict people
with substance use disorders and their experiences navigating
recovery in rehab, have gone a long way to shape our common
narratives about what addiction is and how it should be
central conceit of these shows is that anyone struggling with
addiction must follow the same road to recovery: stay at a
for-profit treatment facility for approximately one to three
months, requiring, among other things, complete abstinence from
drugs and/or alcohol, no matter how excruciating or dangerous.
While these methods are effective for some, they’re profoundly
harmful for others.
promoting this one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—which can be
accompanied by punitive and often humiliating experiences—these
shows reinforce techniques and philosophies that are not only
scientifically debunked, but also have the potential to endanger
people’s lives. Meanwhile, they serve as an advertising platform
for these for-profit rehab centers themselves, many of which have
been shown to be prohibitively expensive, ineffective, and, in some
this episode, we examine the pseudoscience, myths, and
fundamentally quasi-christian self-help ideology promulgated by
this genre of television; the ways in which these shows exploit
addiction for the sake of story; and the relationship between rehab
television and the multibillion-dollar for-profit treatment
guest is journalist and author Maia Szalavitz.