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Is Rehab a Publicity Tool for Public Figures?

Is It Real Or Is It Damage Control?


Updated December 24, 2007

It has become a popular trend for those in the public spotlight, who find themselves in trouble, to check themselves into rehab. Although some of these efforts may be sincere attempts to get treatment for actual drug and alcohol problems, one has to wonder if some might be designed to manipulate the justice system and public opinion.

It appears to be standard advice from attorneys and publicists of the rich and famous: if the heat is on, make a very public announcement that you are entering an alcohol and drug treatment program. It makes you look contrite and remorseful and judges and the general public like to see that. They will be forgiving.

The 'Standard' Advice

If you humiliate yourself by publicly admitting that you have an alcohol or drug problem, the public and the criminal justice system might be less likely to kick you when you are down. If you are willing to voluntarily face the public "stigma" of admitting to the world that you have a drinking problem, you must be sincere.

Don't worry about the response you will receive from the professionals at the rehab center. Although they espouse principles of confidentiality and anonymity, it will not hurt them to have a celebrity "endorsement" of their program. They will welcome you with open arms and gladly take your money.

During 2006, we have seen at least three public figures announce to all the world that were entering rehab, all coming after experiencing embarrassing public incidents.

Patrick Kennedy Does 28 Days

In May 2006, U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island announced that he was entering a 28-day residential treatment facility in Minnesota the day after he crashed his car into a vehicle barrier in Washington, D.C. Police said Kennedy was driving with his lights off, swerving across traffic lanes, and driving at a high rate of speed in a construction zone.

In an initial statement, Kennedy blamed his actions on the interaction of a prescribed dosage of a sleeping pill and an anti-nausea drug. He later admitted to a long-running battle with depression and an addiction to pain medication.

Kennedy completed the treatment program and later co-sponsored along with Rep. Jim Ramstad of Minnesota, a recovering alcoholic, a bill that would put health insurance coverage for addiction treatment on a par with treatment of other chronic diseases,

Mel Gibson's 'Ongoing Program'

In July, actor Mel Gibson announced that he was seeking treatment for alcoholism after he was stopped for driving under the influence. The arrest became international news when it was learned Gibson made anti-Semitic remarks to the sheriff's deputy who stopped him, who was Jewish.

Gibson reportedly said, "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked the arresting officer, "Are you a Jew?" He also said he owned Malibu.

Gibson's publicist told reporters, "Mel has entered into an ongoing program of recovery. The guy is trying to stay alive." Speculation in the media was that Gibson did not enter a professional treatment facility, but rather returned to meetings of his anonymous peer support group.

Mark Foley's Issues

In October 2006, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley of Florida resigned his congressional seat and checked himself into a West Palm Beach treatment center for his alcoholism after the disclosure that he sent suggestive electronic messages to teenage boys working as House pages.

In a statement sent to a local television station, Foley said, "I strongly believe that I am an alcoholic and have accepted the need for immediate treatment for alcoholism and related behavioral problems. On Saturday, with the loving support of my family and friends, I made arrangements to enter a renowned in-patient facility to address my disease and related issues."

Some of the email messages that Foley sent to pages are more than three years old. The instant messages that were disclosed in October were from the fall of 2005, which raises the question why was it only after these "behavior problems" were disclosed did Foley decide he needed immediate treatment?

Is It Real or Is It Damage Control?

While it is generally true that most people seek help for their alcohol and drug problems only after their behavior becomes openly painful, because the practice of running to rehab has become almost a standard policy for public figures who find themselves in trouble, some skepticism over the sincerity of these efforts should not be surprising.

Are they genuinely seeking help for their problems, or is it an effort to mitigate criminal charges? Are they sincerely trying to change their lives, or is it damage control? Is it real, or is it manipulation?

Or is it simply a lame attempt to blame their darkest character defects on the booze?

Foley Enters Rehab, Republicans Choose New Candidate
Foley's Instant Message to Teen Page (PDF)
Mel Gibson In Treatment Program
Rep. Kennedy Entering Rehab After Crash

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