Fun as it was, The New Yorker's profile of Wonderland, the high-priced Hollywood drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, left me cold. Loaded with juicy details (grilled lobster tail with garlic butter, two pools, staff yoga instructor) and larded with names like a Liz Smith wannabe (Lohan, Tyson, Downey, Affleck, Sheen, Spears), the article shed little light on the dilemma of addiction and tended to trivialize the very serious business of substance abuse treatment.
As founder of Phoenix House, with close to half a century of helping people recover from drug and alcohol abuse, I was saddened to see treatment handled with the snickering schadenfreude reserved for the coverage of troubled celebrities. How we love to see the high and mighty brought low.
For the rich and famous, a luxurious setting is no bar to the kind of honesty and self-discovery that leads to recovery.
Substance abuse is real. It wrecks families, destroys careers, and is truly life-threatening. Although "cure" is an illusion, recovery is a reality. It is achievable and manageable, but you've got to work at it-and you've got to start somewhere.
Treatment at Phoenix House, where Wonderland's executive director overcame addiction, is among the best in the nation. But while the standard of care is the highest, most of our residential facilities are strictly no-frills. Food is wholesome but plain, dormitory accommodations are the rule for most new arrivals, and everyone in the community —and it is a community —gets a work assignment.
At high-end treatment facilities for fee-paying clients, life may be more comfortable, and accommodations less spartan, but treatment itself need not necessarily be any less effective. Open and frank disclosure within the therapy groups are the mainstay of effective treatment and make possible the kind of self-discovery that leads to recovery. For the rich and famous, a luxurious setting is no bar to this kind of honest disclosure and self-discovery.
Will treatment "take" after a one-week stay? Not likely. Nor will 28 days or 12 months be long enough. Recovery does not sustain itself without support, and a trenchant point made by the New Yorker article was Wonderland's executive director's own continued involvement in AA, more than two decades after completing treatment at Phoenix House.
Are high-end, lap-of-luxury resorts the best places to overcome addiction? Probably not for most of the folks whose misuse of drugs or alcohol is compromising their lives. But if there's one thing we've learned over the past half-century, it is that treatment is very much a matter of "different strokes for different folks." We've also learned that treatment works-but only if we keep working at it.
Mitchell S. Rosenthal, M.D., started building the Phoenix House system of treatment programs in 1967 as deputy commissioner for rehabilitation of New York City’s Addiction Services Agency. Dr. Rosenthal earlier established the armed service’s first therapeutic community for the treatment of alcoholism, drug addiction, and character disorders at the Oakland Naval Hospital.