Thursday, April 4, 2013

Lindsay Lohan - and Why Rehab Doesn't Work

How long will Lindsay Lohan last in rehab?

It’s the question on everybody’s lips, as the actress prepares to enter rehab for 90 days as part of her plea bargain for allegedly lying about driving a car when drunk.

My guess is she won’t make it.

And for one simple reason.

Rehab doesn’t work.

How many times do people have to re-enter it to get that message? It’s like going to confession: once you absolve yourself of your “sins”, you are free to go out and do the same all over again with a clean slate.

Of course, it is important that people with any kind of addiction that threatens to ruin their own lives and those close to them, get help; of course, it takes courage, and those who choose the path of recovery rather than self-destruction, are to be admired; of course, ultimately, there is greater happiness in being healthy, sober and drug free.

But the problem with rehab is that it is based on the AA 12 Steps programme that hasn’t changed since its inception in 1939. While science, medicine and technology – heck, human beings, too - have come a long way since the war, the AA solution is one of 12 steps set in stone.

Ninety five per cent of people who attend AA leave within the first year. Five per cent of people suffering from any disease recover spontaneously; so it could be said that those who claim AA has worked for them (and they do claim to have a “disease”) might well have recovered anyway. That would give AA a zero success rate.

The 12 Step programme has, at its core, the belief that a human being is powerless and in need of reliance upon a “higher power” to get by. That power is invariably God – go to a group sometime and watch the beatific smiles as individuals praise Jesus’s part in their lives. Personally, I’m not sure about asking for help with alcohol addiction from a guy whose party trick was turning water into wine, but it obviously works for some people.

The organisation gets around this (it’s a new tack they’ve taken in the light of the growth of atheism) by saying that the higher power might be within yourself - in which case, change the clause. But they won’t. Because it is a programme based upon fear.

AA does not take into account the enormous amount of research that has been carried out into the nature of addiction since 1939. Nor does it take into account human psychology and a rapidly changing society. It lumps everyone together into one homogenous group – everyone is equal. That might help some, but it doesn’t help everyone. All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.

In the AA groups I researched, I sat listening to people who, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, had taken to speeding cars and tried to run down their relatives. I heard stories of terrible attacks on loved ones. I was told to try to find common ground, but there just wasn’t any. But the belief is that once you are on the slippery slope (the common ground), this is where you will end up; such stories are therefore not just sharing moments, they are meant to serve as a warning. For me, it was like being at an evangelical prayer meeting and not believing in God.

I made no secret of the fact, some years ago, that I cut down on drinking, and I would be a liar if I said that I have not, on occasion since, drunk more than I know is good for me. I never said I was going to give up completely, and nor would I want to; but in exploring ways that helped me change my drinking habits, I found many other possibilities out there that just don’t get talked about because of our society’s continued reliance on AA as the Be all and End all solution to all addiction problems.

Finding out why and when you are most at risk of drinking (I have no idea about other drugs) too much is the key - and spotting those triggers and learning how not to respond to them. It’s not always easy, because these things are embedded in our DNA and catch us unawares. I recently attended an event at which I knew just one person and all the feelings of insecurity and rejection flooded back from when I first moved to London and downing the free drinks helped me through the night. Suddenly, I was 23 again. This time, though, I didn’t use alcohol to get by – there is nothing like Californian wine, free or not, to send you to the water tray.

I also used to drink because I was bored, and I have never been someone who deals well with boredom or bores (of which there are many drunken ones). I also drank because I was lonely. Sometimes, I still am. But now, I go for a run or phone a friend and, I have to say, social networking has been a godsend in helping me – and many others – feel less isolated in the world.

There are many books now that offer ideas about how to control drinking. I have never been someone who drinks to get drunk (that just happened to be a bi-product) and if there is no decent wine in the house, I am not someone who hits the cooking sherry. I have three cupboards full of spirits and have never had a drop of any one of them. It’s not the alcohol I like; I like wine and the people I share it with. But, like many others, I keep an eye on my units.

In addition to some great books on the market, there are many other recovery programmes - SMART (Self Management and Recovery Training) is terrific and a real alternative to AA. I just wish that it had the same publicity. Without the inherent guilt trip and feelings of powerlessness that AA tends to induce, it focuses on the strength of the individual, and what one’s “self” can do in the healing process.

I really hope that Lindsay Lohan gets her act together, because the way things are going, this play has just one ending, and it isn’t a happy one.

But rehab hasn’t worked for her before and I very much doubt it will this time.

Twelve steps?

The first one should be finding an alternative.

One that actually works.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Told ya! And she didn't even make check-in!