In the Wake of Lindsay Lohan's Disastrous Reality Show, the Question Looms: Is Addiction Entertainment Exploitative?

Takepart.comApril 25, 2014

Thu, 24 Apr 2014 16:45:50 PDT

The eight-part docu-series, which ended this week, Lindsay could have been a monster hit for the fledgling OWN Network. A chronicle of Lindsay Lohan’s attempt at sobriety produced by Oprah Winfrey? So much drama, so many feels!

Turns out that the almighty O can’t actually perform ratings or redemption miracles. The Lindsay premiere drew fewer than 700,000 viewers and the audience only shrank from there. Reviews ranged from tepid to wretched by Sunday’s finale and Lohan admitted to relapsing during filming.

But Lindsay did one thing no one expected: It painted a more realistic picture of addiction than we’ve seen on the small screen in years. Too bad no one really wanted to watch that.

Rehab shows aren’t new, nor is the notion that they exploit people’s troubles for ratings. What’s changed since the 2008 advent of Intervention, Addicted and Celebrity Rehab is that the TV-sanctioned model of recovery is no longer widely accepted in the addiction treatment community.

Intervention’s highly dramatic but completely ineffective message was 'This person is so damaged that they’re not even part of this discussion anymore,'” says Jeffery Foote, PhD, executive director of the Center for Motivation and Change and co-author of Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change.

Celebrity Rehab, described as "abominable" by Foote, took the shame-and-blame approach a step further. “It supported the stigmatized view that every ‘addict’ is the same and deserves a one-size-fits-all treatment,” says Foote. Following the relapses and deaths of multiple cast members, Celebrity Rehab was canceled in 2013. 

Lindsay was unusual because it didn’t fit the script audiences expected. It flipped it entirely by letting Lohan—the addict—author the story. That’s a lot closer to the collaborative, individualized approach to treatment that’s now in favor among mental health providers. Throughout Lindsay, Lohan dabbles in traditional recovery maintenance, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings sporadically. There’s no psychotherapist or AA sponsor browbeating her, no “authority” telling the audience which behaviors to pity or praise. Instead, she relies on a sober coach and life coach that she wants around for support…until she doesn't. She even sees a shaman for a psychedelic journey on ahayuasca. (Which is, um, a drug, and not exactly a safe one).

Does her plan work? Not really. We watch her do yoga, schedule meetings, and brim with pluck one day. The next, she lays in bed blank-faced, blowing off commitments, and lamenting the “chaos” in her life. It’s a shambling, unpredictable narrative—and it looks a lot like ups and downs of real-life addiction. (Plus enormous privilege, paparazzi, and a $16K-a-month apartment, of course.)

“The reality of living with addiction is days and weeks of someone not following directions, not going to meetings, and being in denial of symptoms,” says Timothy Fong, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Addiction Psychiatry Fellowship at UCLA. “Then, other weeks you see people going to church, making dinner, and paying taxes. It’s not black or white, but shades of gray all the time.”

Lohan appears keenly aware of the performance necessary to create juicy confessional entertainment. And that’s why filming sobriety can be so dangerous for an actress with a shaky grasp on sobriety. “I wouldn’t dream of putting a client in the limelight where they may not be making good decisions for themselves but the light is so bright that they can’t see that,” says Foote. In Lohan’s case, the she is literally trained to create drama for the camera. Why are we surprised when she does it yet again to her detriment? 

Part of the problem may be that incentivizing Lohan’s recovery with her own series and a $2 million payday doesn’t make sense from a behavioral perspective. Especially when cash and exposure may have actually fueled her addiction in the first place. “Giving someone millions of dollars to participate in filming feels weird because she’s going to get the money whether she relapses or not,” says Foote. “You’re rewarding being a star, not behavioral change.”

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Original article from TakePart