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American Addiction Centers National Rehabs Directory

7 Truths About Rehab and Reality Television

Most networks have their own brand of “reality” television; some of the most popular reality shows touch on the topics of drug addiction and recovery.

A Look Behind the Lens

A&E’s show, simply titled Intervention, is an Emmy-award winning program that highlights the struggle of addiction from all angles. Once the show’s popularity exploded, other networks naturally followed suit.

For six seasons, VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew combined both a celebrity doctor and the drama of “B” and “C” list TV personalities, musicians and actors as they entered rehab.

The end result of documenting the recovery process through the lens of reality television has been both positive and negative. By documenting the struggles of addiction on a national scale, networks were able to shed light on the recovery process.

In theory, the recovery-themed shows were supposed to educate and inspire millions of viewers. The problem, however, is that the content that usually makes the final cut isn’t an accurate portrayal of events. Thanks to a heavy editing process and splicing of film, the audience can be quickly led astray or, in many cases, blatantly fooled.

Separating Truth from Fiction

With that in mind, let’s take a look at 7 truths and falsehoods of reality TVs version of addiction recovery.

  • Family Members May Not be so Eager to Participate in InterventionsOn television, organizing and staging an intervention is portrayed as a very black and white scenario. Despite the type or severity of addiction, the result is usually consistent: a counselor steps in to provide guidance, describes ground rules to the family and mediates the intervention.The intervention is nearly always portrayed as successful, with the addict agreeing to attend rehab. In reality, not all interventions will be successful on the first attempt. Not all family members will be so eager to participate in an intervention. Interventions are a very delicate matter, since not everyone is comfortable with confrontation.
  • Only the Most Extreme Cases Make it to AirFor television, ratings reign supreme. Therefore, only the most extreme cases of hoarding, and drug, sex, and alcohol addiction make it to the airwaves.Only showing the most extreme cases not only distorts the very wide spectrum that is drug addiction, it could provide a skewed reality to those who may be watching in search for help themselves.
  • Broken Homes and Divorced Parents Do Not Mean You will Become an AddictReality TV often defaults to common hardships, like divorce or single parent childhoods, in order to create a sense of familiarity for its audience. While the relationship between a traumatic or life-altering experience and drug use is high, the source of one’s addictive behavior varies greatly.Studies have shown that genetics and environment are nearly neck and neck in being the culprit for drug addiction.
  • The Treatment Centers Featured are Often Beyond the Means of Average American FamiliesAccording to reality TV, following an intervention, the addict is quickly transported to a rehab facility… one that’s typically outside their home state.What is not revealed is that these featured treatment centers are private, for-profit centers. These centers greatly exceed what most American families can afford. Today, finding a treatment center under $10,000 can be a challenge.
  • There are Major Ethics Violations for the Sake of DramaReality shows are generally filmed in the “docudrama” style. Therefore, it is not uncommon to witness an addict procuring drugs or engaging in other illegal activity on camera.Over the years, the act of production crews standing by as witnesses to illegal and harmful activity has caused a serious ethical debate in terms of production and liability.
  • Subjects are Often Mislead for the Sake of the ShowA&E’s Intervention states at the beginning of each episode that the subjects have agreed to be documented for a piece on addiction. Presumably, the addicts do not know that they will be participating in an intervention, meaning they signed release forms under false pretenses.
  • Reality TV Usually Portrays Only One Type of Recovery ScenarioAfter a few episodes of each reality TV intervention or recovery process, the premise becomes formulaic. In fact, most tend to end with a successful stint in rehab.The truth, however, is that not every addict finds sobriety in the same way. Believe it or not, some recovering addicts never step foot in a rehab facility. For example, natural recovery methods have gained popularity over the last decade, helping addicts to achieve sobriety without “formal” treatment. And though most reality TV programs feature the 12-step program, many of today’s rehabs use outpatient treatment facilities and programs that do not utilize 12-step thinking.


Learn more about treatment options for alcohol abuse and addiction.

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