From Britney Spears to Rush Limbaugh, celebrities just can’t stay out of rehab.
Amy Winehouse wrote a song about not going, went and then checked herself out to perform it via satellite for the Grammys. Kirsten Dunst checked into the glamorous Park Lake Utah Cirque Lodge, just missing Eva Mendez, who left last month. Lindsay Lohan and Mary-Kate Olsen checked out a few months ago.
“Everyone goes to rehab these days,” advertising senior Karen Morse said. “It’s the new Hamptons.” She seems to be right. With each refresh of TMZ or browse of Star magazine in line at the grocery store (because you never actually buy them, right?), it seems one of our favorites is in, out or just visiting.[morse]
But the popularity of drug use and the resulting rehab among the famous is not a new trend. What is new is the publicity placed on it. In the past, the only time the public heard about drug use in the upper echelons of society is when an icon lost the battle. Sure, there was speculation, but never the detailed minutia that is delivered now – but it was always there. “There has never been a point, especially after the 20th century, that wealthy people didn’t disappear for weeks at a time. It was just secret until now,” said Dr. Gary Stollak, a professor of psychology. But what drives them to despair? Why do we keep seeing those who have everything in the news for overdosing?
Part of it is our fault. In the age of cell phone cameras and blogs updated by the minute, celebrity culture is at our fingertips like never before. “We’re fascinated by wealthy, powerful people falling apart,” Stollak said. VH1’s reality TV show “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew” profiles the drug and alcohol rehabilitation of several B-list celebrities under the care of addiction and recovery expert Dr. Drew Pinsky, who also hosted MTV’s “LoveLine.” The show broadcasts the trials of coming off drugs and alcohol, including a stomach-churning episode of actor Jeff Conoway’s coke detox. Kenickie never looked so sick. The season ends with a graduation from the Southern California rehab center.
[stollak]When the private lives of celebrities and public figures still existed, it was easy to hide whether someone was in and out of rehab. “No one knew Franklin Roosevelt had polio and was in a wheelchair because all of the photographers agreed not to photograph his legs. And now we see pictures of Britney coming out of a car without any underwear,” Stollak said. Our obsession with celebrity culture leaves public figures with no room to cover their own asses.
These celebrities’ lives are highly visible and this can lead to stress, which can lead to self-medication with the drugs and alcohol that are so easy to attain. Many stars drink as a way to cope with the demanding lifestyle. “A considerable amount of wealth may give one a sense that one is immune to the consequences that other people suffer from,” said Dr. Robert Zucker, director of addiction research center for the University of Michigan. “The reality is we’re all human beings and we all have to grapple with similar issues in life.”
Accounting senior Jake Sutter sees why so many celebrities have trouble with substance abuse. “They have endless amounts of money, rarely work and are young and beautiful and want to live it up,” he said. Because of our obsession with celebrity culture, their behavior may be judged more harshly than that of most people. “They may or may not have a problem, but the public sees them on TV and suddenly they have an issue.” Suddenly the teen queen is whisked out of the limelight and into a recovery center to lick her wounds in privacy. But where are these people actually going?[drink12]
Stollak doubts the validity of some rehabilitation centers. “I’m very concerned that the word ‘rehabilitation’ is meaningless,” he said. “I’m not persuaded these places are doing any good other than getting them off alcohol for three days or 30 minutes.” The key to success after rehabilitation is practicing substance-free living outside of the hospital. Stollak suggested staying in rehab for a year or two and then going through outpatient counseling several times per week for years after that. “It takes years to relearn ways of living and to gain self-understanding,” he said.
For those with addictive behavior, the problem typically lies in a social network of people who are heavy or problem narcotics users themselves. “If one truly wants to turn one’s self around, it’s changing your social network. And that may be difficult to do in the limelight like that,” Zucker said. Often, celebrities go back to their original way of life once they step out of the hospital. “It’s never an easy job. Maybe it will take Britney until she’s 40,” Stollak said. TMZ can only hope.[yellow1]
Biochemistry and molecular biology sophomore Allen MacDonald said because the media focuses on celebrities with problems, the public assumes they are all drug addicts. “There are a lot of celebrities who aren’t in and out of rehab, but you don’t hear about them because they aren’t fun like Britney Spears and Paris Hilton,” he said. So how do we know which celebs are going to blow?
Zucker studies the risk factors associated with substance abuse. The ongoing project, called the Michigan Longitudinal Study, has looked at certain individuals’ lives and addiction behavior for 25 years. Although several theories have been made thus far, he said, “One thing is very clear, and that is it is possible to detect risks in childhood for later problems in life.” Early signs of alcoholism or other addictive diseases may be seen as early as pre-school, looking at both genetic and social makeup. Time to break out the home videos.
Although they are in the spotlight most often, wealthy people are not the only people who drink. “Michigan State students tend to drink more on average and often times more days of the week than other schools,” Sutter said. He believes the large student population creates more options to party. “We have more people, making for more things to do and thus creating many drinking atmospheres. Thursday nights at most other schools are not nearly as excessive as they are here.”
[zucker]Becky Allen, the alcohol, tobacco and other drug health educator for Olin Health Center, is familiar with the student body and its alcohol consumption. She said for most MSU students, the problem isn’t in alcohol consumption itself, but the decision-making that occurs with it. To measure what is termed High Risk Drinking, Olin specialists look at a number of factors. First, they calculate the amount of alcohol consumed compared to the amount of time it took to consume it. Second, personal characteristics like sex, weight, medical conditions and history of addiction affect how individuals react to alcohol. Third, environmental issues like who you are with, how you’re getting home and whether you feel comfortable affect how you act upon intoxication. “When you put these together, it really describes who is using alcohol dangerously or not,” Allen said. Generally, more than 14 drinks in a week or four at one time for men, or seven drinks in a week or three at one time for women, is considered harmful drinking behavior.
Allen also said that based on surveys, five to seven percent of the MSU population has a serious drug or alcohol problem, and at MSU, alcohol, tobacco and marijuana are not abused as much as people think they are. She said well under five percent of students have begun to experiment with illegal drugs like marijuana, cocaine and ecstasy. MacDonald said he doesn’t think most MSU students have problems with alcohol consumption. “As freshmen, MSU students drink to get drunk, but then they get used to partying and catch on that they don’t have to be hammered to have fun.”[macmac]
Whether you’re Britney Spears or the boy next door, the MSU community offers services to help you deal with drug and alcohol abuse. Several rehab centers across the country offer in-patient care for counseling and detoxification. But for people without millions of dollars or medical insurance, recovering may be less glamorous. Olin specialists refer students without insurance to the Community Referral and Diagnostic Center in East Lansing, where they are put on a waiting list depending on their level of need for care.
The rules for rehab are very clear now. People over 18 must be voluntarily admitted and stay in the hospital, since civil rights laws were passed in the 1960s to protect patients. But for people battling substance abuse, addiction might influence someone to want to leave. “We can’t keep people in institutions for their own good, like we were able to in the 1920s, ’30s, and ’40s,” Stollak said. When Winehouse wanted to perform for the Grammys last month, for example, she checked herself out to do so. “Being detoxified of alcohol or heroin is just the beginning of the solution to the problem. It doesn’t mean you’re rehabilitated,” Stollak said. Most celebrities have a long way to go.[rehab3]
Whatever the reason, we see a new crop of young stars battling addiction every day. Britney’s shaved head, Paris’ stint in the slammer and Amy’s topless wanderings through the streets of London are all images that represent the hardships of their lives and sidebar entertainment for us. But really, Amy, if you clean up, we won’t like you less. I promise, no, no, no.

For help with substance abuse problems, visit Olin’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs department. Allen practices an open door policy to students who seek information about addiction. “I’m not going to write their name down,” she said. “I’m just here to talk.”

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