Growing Skepticism About Addiction Excuses
The public and pundits appear to be growing weary of politicians and celebrities blaming their foibles on a previously undiagnosed addiction to alcohol and other drugs.
The New York Times reported Oct. 8 that former Rep. Mark Foley announced that he was entering a treatment program for alcoholism shortly after his sexually explicit communications with male, teenage Congressional pages became public. Actor Mel Gibson also checked into treatment after a drunk-driving arrest that included a non-infamous anti-Semitic tirade against police officers. And disgraced Rep. Bob Ney blamed drinking for his ethical lapses involving lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
“So many celebrities have used rehab as a fig leaf lately to cover over their abhorrent actions, and as a result it's become routine and lacks credibility,” said New York public-relations guru Howard Rubenstein. “I think it ought to be banned as an excuse.”
Critics suspect that some cases may be aimed at cleaning up images rather than getting clean and sober. “At different times in the last 30 years it's certainly been to your advantage to say, 'I went to treatment,'” said John Schwarzlose, president of the Betty Ford Center. “I worry people do it for that reason sometimes, to revive a career … It's a warning signal to the addiction-treatment field that you better be doing good assessment, that you're treating people who are clinically appropriate. If someone is trying to 'hide' or find sanctuary, hopefully addiction places are not going to take them in.”
“We worry that the larger public will begin to become cynical as people say, 'Oh, I'm in trouble, I'll enter an alcohol treatment facility,'” added Ed Diehl, president of New Jersey's Seabrook House. “My concern is someone gets caught cheating on their taxes and says, 'Oh my God, I must have been out of my mind drinking.'”
On the other hand, notes Diehl, it's not uncommon for a personal crisis to motivate an individual to seek treatment for addiction.
“The reality is we seldom question people's motivations because not many people seek rehabilitative services that don't need them,” said Terry Allen, head of the Hanley Center in West Palm Beach, Fla.