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January 07, 2008
The Celebreality Interview - Dr. Drew

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You may know Dr. Drew Pinsky from radio and MTV's Loveline, or from CNN's Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew, or from his writing and research. Or you may know him just as that hot guy who knows, like, everything about everything. He's bringing his expertise as an addictionologist to VH1 via Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, a new Celebreality show that debuts Thursday, Jan. 10 at 10/9c. The series chronicles the substance-abuse rehabilitation of eight celebrities (Brigitte Nielsen, Mary Carey, Jeff Conway, Chyna Doll, Jessica Sierra, Seth "Shifty" Binzer, Jaimee Foxworth and Daniel Baldwin). If you think this sounds like a trainwreck sliding your way...well, you may be surprised to find how quiet, reflective and sensitive the show actually is.

But don't take our word for it. After the jump, Dr. Drew talks about the conception of the show, the treachery of treating famous people and why drug addicts are funny.

It seems like a show like Celebrity Rehab or whatever came before it (Intervention, for example) inherently walks a fine line: the intention is to show people the process of rehab, but it could also be taken as exploitation.

The basic note is that everyone understood what they were getting into. We're all grownups. These people wanted and needed help and they very courageously were willing to do it in front of other people, if it would help other people. Our task was to finally end the nonsense that's tossed about about chemical-dependency treatment or rehab, that it's some kind of vacation. We want to show people what this really is so people can understand how it should go down if they're not getting good treatment, and for people contemplating treatment, hopefully it will encourage them.

We're living in a trainwreck culture. People turn on their TVs to delight in watching famous people fall apart. Were you ever concerned that people might laugh at Celebrity Rehab, especially on the first episode when many of the participants show up in altered states?

Drug addicts are funny. Out of the most poignant moments comes great comedy. We use comedy and laughter to deal with these intense experiences, and that goes for our staff and our patients. To make light of or to belittle these people's experiences, that concerns me. However, to laugh at them comes from a deeply connected place. People are funny. People are funny even in the most intense circumstances.

In the pool of celebrities that you have amassed, do you think that fame is the root of their collective problem?

Absolutely not. I've done the only scientific research done on that topic, and we were able to show that people with pathology desire to be celebrity. People come to their celebrity status already with the pathology. I think you see that the issues that are very commonly underlying most celebrity personality structures on this show: the trauma, the addiction, the abandonment, the abuse. All of that is an exceedingly common history in people that strive to be celebrities.

This show is almost an anti-reality show, considering the basic template of reality shows (especially on VH1): in many cases, you get a group of people together, ply them with alcohol and see what insanity ensues. In this case, you're getting a group of people together and taking away the booze.

This is not a reality show. This is showing reality.

What are your feelings on AA or faith-based recovery programs?

Without some sort of spiritual experience, people don't get well. That's just a fact. Whatever that means to the individual varies. They have to be willing to get out of their own heads, basically, and have faith that the world won't spin out of control if they don't control it. Narcissism is a key personality element and you have to get people out of that. They have to be able to transcend a bit, whatever that means to them.

As a doctor, when you're treating people who are famous, is there any sort of unintentional bias that affects you?

Not me, but that's the treachery of treating famous people. Doctors, like other people, love basking in the narcissistic glow of fame, and they feel very gratified when a famous person goes, "Oh, you're the best doctor in the world!" They go, "This person thinks I'm the best doctor!" That's how celebrities end up getting their drugs. That's how they stay in their disease. I hope this show shows that we just treat everyone as a drug addict, not as a star.

How are you particularly able to avoid the aforementioned treachery? Is it just in your character to not be seduced by celebrity?

It just comes from treating addicts for years and years and years and learning from that. Early in my career, I had a couple experiences where I treated, particularly, one very famous movie star. I treated her specially, gave her a special room and stuff and it ended up being a catastrophe for the patient. I learned early that you don't treat anyone as special. When you give an addict special consideration, you give them license to maintain their disease. So everyone's just a human being with a common illness. Everyone gets the best possible intervention, and that's that. And that's how I've been doing it for the past 15 years. As I've maintained that philosophy, I've looked around to see what other people are doing and realized that special treatment is exactly why celebrities stay addicted.

Did your doctor-patient confidentially agreement impose hurdles on making a show like this?

It was bizarre! Everyday, I would tell the patients, "We're putting on our space suits now. We're gonna walk on the surface of a planet that no one's ever been on." This is all new. Everyone signed away their confidentiality but...it was just weird. A very, very strange circumstance. Once we navigated all that, we got used to it, but now there's the question of what all of this attention is going to do to these people. Will it be a good thing? A bad thing? Who knows. So far, it's been a good thing. Most people are staying sober.

To be honest, this whole show is weird to me, since my job basically revolves around reality television and I'm really well-versed in trainwreckism. I expected this show to be a mess all the way through, but...it's not. It's much quieter and profound than that. It's shocking.

God bless VH1 for approaching it the way they did. (Laughing) I don't think any other network could have tolerated it. They didn't understand it going in. How do you explain to someone what this is? How do you say, "This is how treatment goes"? You can't sum it up in a sentence. All I could say was, "A lot will happen. I can't say what. Please don't reality-show it." Three days in, [VH1 exec] Jeff Olde came to me and said, "We get it. We see what's going on here. If there's anything we can do to support you, let us know. We'll see you in three weeks." I don't think any other network or any other executive on the planet would have done that. That really allowed the show to be what it is. It really allowed us to keep these people safe and actually treat them.

My constant refrain for everyone who wants to go negative on this show is: watch the show first. It speaks for itself. Anyone who has been hired to be negative, we've shown them the shows and they've had a 180 degree turnaround. It is treatment. It is the human experience. It doesn't pull any punches.

Related content
Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew show page


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Comments
Ettina

I really hate his anti-atheist sentiment. If I can't get better without having a spiritual experience, maybe I should just go and kill myself. Luckily, I don't accept that he knows everything about what is or isn't necessary to heal.

Oeni Mean

Christians or any participants in organized religion do not have the market cornered on spirituality. Being connected to your soul, or making the best decisions for your best self, is hardly anti-atheist. -Atheist in OH

StevieT

I am blessed to have nearly 18 years of sobriety and know how difficult this journey of day-to-day sobriety is. I am hopeful that these people who are the focus of this program are able to get a grasp of their sobriety and learn that there is a huge world outside of their abuse. I wish them all the best in their fight.

heather

But, isn't it "special treatment" to create this show in the first place? Weren't they selected to be on the show because of their [D list] celebrity status, and isn't filming them for a show just feeding their egos? And by creating and starring in this show, isn't Dr. Drew - a celebrity himself - just stroking his own ego? Wouldn't it be more helpful to the participants' treatment not to film them for a television show, no matter what Dr. Drew decides to call it (showing reality, reality show, it's just semantics)? And hasn't one of the participants recently spiraled out of control and gotten arrested?

Frances Tuttle

Open letter to Dr. Drew Pinsky:

Dr. Drew. the way that you are showing rehabilitation from drugs like opiates by making users of these drugs go through "cold turkey" withdrawals is barbaric, out-moded and harmful to the people you are attempting to cure. It has been shown through research that the sudden drop of endorphin levels in the brain as a result of "cold turkey" withdrawals can be permanently harmful and lead to depression and other mental illnesses as the brain chemistry wildly swings. Most addiction doctors use anti-depressants, ambien, klonopin, and most importantly subutex or suboxone. Most addiction doctors consider suboxone and subutex to be one of the most revolutionary drugs to be developed to help with opiate detoxification. In the case of Jeff Conway, subutex or suboxone is frequently used to manage pain in opiate-addicted patients. Yet, it is not being used. Nor is it being mentioned as an possibility for people struggling with opiate addiction. Using the SAMHSA government site people can locate general practioners who have had training with the drug and need not attend rehab even. Please keep in mind that you are only presenting one very small part of the "rehab" debate that focuses on the steps and working a program that requires a person like Daniel Baldwin "define" himself as an addict and that he lives his addiction even when he's not using. There are tons of other points of view that start with assisted recovery ( http://www.assisted.recovery.com ) and harm reduction and one of the big failures of the minnesota model and the step think is the inability to help women who have been victimized--and to understand things like complex ptsd and might explain why Chynna is at odds with the program. There really is no other place for her to turn to address the damage done to her and forcing a program on victims of doemstic of violence--research has shown there is no hope. Please look at other alternatives and newer means of chemical rehahilitation before forcing your clients into "cold turkey"--the most cruel of all alternatives.

Sober in TX

Bravo to Frances for writing about the Stone Age mentality taken by Dr. Drew in this show. After recently being arrested for possession of 4 different drugs, I decided to change my life and became sober (9 days thank you very much). As an acute opiate addict, I began seeing an addiction specialist, who prescribed suboxone to me. This has helped me change my life as I never thought I could----for the better! I did not have to suffer the hellish withdrawals at all. In fact, I learned that there is a split among rehab centers in this country-----those that use suboxone and those that don't. I found many rehabs that charge a fortune, put "patients" through cold turkey opiate withdrawals for up to a month and then release them with a three day prescription for suboxone. This is ironic because suboxone/subutex are specifically approved by the FDA for treatment of opiate addiction for the specific purpose of relieving withdrawal symptoms! The cold turkey "method" is utterly unnecessary and for a "cutting edge" addiction physician like Dr. Drew to avoid this medicine is, in my opinion, medical malpractice!!!!!!! I have been so positively affected by suboxone that I feel the need to speak about it whenever I can. No, I don't work for the company and no I have no financial stake in its continued use. My only interest is that in the 5 years of my vicodin addiction, I could not get out of bed for days and weeks when I was without vicodin. Within an hour of taking suboxone, I knew that I had found an ally in my fight against addiction. So many of the people that knew of my situation were ignorant of suboxone use in treatment and were shocked when I told them that I didn't need to go to a detox facility. I really thought Dr. Drew would at least discuss the possibility of using suboxone on Jeff Conaway, who is clearly having the toughest time of all the rehabbers. I see Jeff going through the nightmare I have personally known in the past and ask myself why in the world would an addiction specialist like Dr. Drew completely ignore the use of suboxone treatment. I also figured out the answer---because Jeff would not have stayed for the entire series if he had been prescribed suboxone. Good luck to the celebrities and to all of us who have --.

hottmess

shame on u dr drew i really enjoy the show but being an addict for 30yrs and just discovering suboxone 3 mths ago it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. i believe u know if these pts were to receive suboxone on ur reality show that would do so well that u would not have all the drama an heartbreak and that would decrease ur tv ratings now wouldnt it? Shame on u for playing with their lives they have entrusted to u an exposing their embarassment on tv for the world 2 c. Are tv ratings more important than saving a life? Have us addicts not already been thru enough shame an torture that we already know we brought upon ourselves? Think about it.

hottmess

shame on u dr drew i really enjoy the show but being an addict for 30yrs and just discovering suboxone 3 mths ago it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. i believe u know if these pts were to receive suboxone on ur reality show that would do so well that u would not have all the drama an heartbreak and that would decrease ur tv ratings now wouldnt it? Shame on u for playing with their lives they have entrusted to u an exposing their embarassment on tv for the world 2 c. Are tv ratings more important than saving a life? Have us addicts not already been thru enough shame an torture that we already know we brought upon ourselves? Think about it.

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