Rehab TV Shows Won't Fix Addicts, and Neither Will Reality Stars

Talking dumb to addiction on TV may do more harm than good.

If you’ve never  known an addict or been through an intervention, watching reality TV mug the subject is quite entertaining. In fact, junkies and their families and acquaintances swinging at the end of their ropes really do make for good TV. The fundamental story arc dives into some poor thing's very rocky descent (whew, thank God that’s not me!), then soars up into the very rocky, long flight path to the clouds of recovery (whew, that sad mess is going to totally make it out a-ok!).

Perhaps the most tragic and serious show about addicts (and their seemingly easy recovery) is A&E’s Intervention. It’s impossible that you’ve missed it—the show ran for 14 seasons. It even picked up an Emmy for Outstanding Reality Program.

You know the drill: Gather a tribe on a long couch, cry, read letters of hope. Your addict is suddenly going to get better. 

But Intervention is just a TV show. It does not depict a full, or good, depiction of the actual long (and often tortuous) road to recovery. Still, it's been a household staple for several years, and many loudmouths, including celebrities, think they know how to cure addiction themselves just by watching the show. 

You know the drill: Gather a tribe on a long couch, cry, read letters of hope. Your addict is suddenly going to get better. 

The show is successful in ratings because we humans love to watch others who are far, far worse off than us, and maybe we like to believe that people who are not us will get better. 

Don’t you remember this guy? He’s fucking famous now, and it's a lot heartbreaking to think about how many people still imitate this guy crying...

Since the dawn of Intervention, there have been plenty more of these shows. Celebrity Rehab might ring a bell as the most disturbing and popular. All these clashing, washed-up celebs live in a treatment center trying to get clean, together, and on camera. Seemingly very nice guy Dr. Drew is trying to save them all, one pill addiction at a time.

I’d like to believe that these roads are paved with good intentions. Still, it’s a show, and that's it. Many of the people who go on TV for treatment are not enduringly sober. Actually, a disturbing number of them are dead, including one-time Celebrity Rehab inmate, Chyna.

It’s not only ratings-obsessed addiction-based shows that are doing real damage to anyone, anywhere who has struggled with addiction in some way. Even further harm comes from the "talent" on television (looking at you, basic reality TV stars!) who think they are basically doctors and can help an addict, just like they've seen on TV. 

The most recent episode of Shahs of Sunset, a seemingly funny and trashy show about rich Persian friends in Los Angeles, turned intervention. The gang decided on a shitty camping trip that one dear friend was a raging alcoholic. To be fair, even GG admitted that among her many health problems, she’s for sure addicted to booze. The intervention took place in camp chairs, around a poorly made fire. Everyone else was drinking wine. The friends read letters from GG's parents, begging her to stop her drinking and pull herself out of depression. 

Perhaps these reality stars have seen one too many episodes of the worst reality show of all: Intervention. 

Right, because it’s that easy. If you’ve ever really been witness to addiction, your own or someone else’s, it’s quite clear that a kumbaya campfire, or even a stint on an hourlong nightly program, won't do the trick.

But here TV is—telling America that addiction is a domain ruled by whacked-out celebrities, and it’s oh-so-simple to fix.

You just need love and support

Keeping Up With the Kardashians just aired a season premiere. It centered around basketball player and Kardashian love interest Lamar Odom’s near-death overdose last fall. TMZ reports that Odom approved the show's trauma center photos of himself hooked up to life support, reasoning that his tragic tale could help someone else. And perhaps, if the Kardashians are made of human flesh and blood, they may believe less-fortunate humans are helped by the telling of Odom's story. Except, in case you didn’t know, these people are not doctors. 

There was Scheana from Vanderpump Rules who thought her addict husband could recover, without professional help, because she loved him so much. Friends gathered around him in a grossly decorated apartment. The friends all cried—saying how much they loved Scheana's boo. They assured him that his story could change lives.

Except, well, it didn’t change his life until he actually got off the cameras and got real treatment—not the one where Scheana gave him a self-administered drug test every morning and let him only drink beer, not booze.

The women of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills have been dealing with Kim Richards being a complete drunk for nearly every season now. Of course, in their commentary, each cast member knows how best to place her on the right path to recovery. Some know the solution is self discipline, and some simply know it’s love. Easy!

Recently, Richards appeared (sober) on the reunion special and finally said she won’t talk about her rehabilitation because her doctors have told her not to—a new path for her. 

Except for when she needs money (or at least the rumored free ride to rehab), and talks about it all on Dr. Phil. Because, well, reality TV stars loves fame and free stuff—even free rehab. 

Perhaps if someone like Kim Richards is sober, BravoTV won’t pay her to star in their show—who knows, right? That notion seems mean and terrible, but television programming is based on money and ratings, like always. 

Remember The Jersey Shore? Remember the insane binge drinking, puking, and blacking out that sadly was a pleasure to watch because it reminded us of youth and opened our eyes to a world we’d never known (I mean those spray tans and the literal Jersey Shore)? That show, just like so many seasons of The Real World, included groups of people rationalizing their addictive behaviors and seemingly able to take care of it themselves. Or at least, listen to their friends' advice as if they were all doctors. 

It’s really hard to watch.

What about the people that really need help, and they’re watching this bullshit, thinking they too, can fix their own little problem? A problem that is most likely not little at all—a fact they’d find out immediately with professional help. 

Perhaps these reality stars have seen one too many episodes of the worst reality show of all: Intervention. That show is just as realistic as Jesse Spano freaking the fuck out and taking all those pills before finals