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Addiction as Entertainment: Do Shows Like Dr. Phil and Celebrity Rehab Help or Harm?

We are all drawn to tragedy- both big and small. Just look at any highway when there is a car accident. Not only does the side with the accident slow down to maneuver around the cars, but so too does the other side of the highway. Why? Well, to take a look at the accident of course.

This draw to check out what might be happening on the other side of the highway, is the same draw we have to reality shows such as Dr. Phil or Celebrity Rehab. Both of these shows use scenes of people at their worst to draw an audience. They advertise human drama, with clips of crying people or violent confrontations and promise the viewer dramatic resolutions to people’s personal struggles. Though Dr. Phil has many different themes on his show a popular one is that of people needing help with addiction and is often promising people free rehab if they agree to go right away (after the taping of the show that is). Celebrity Rehab is exactly that, taking celebrities into their rehab centre and filming the entire thing.

The question becomes- are these programs actually helping the people they serve or are they simply dramatizing their stories in order to get ratings? If they were being fully sincere in their efforts, perhaps they would also be successful at reaching addicts in their homes and shining a light on the problems they might be encountering in their own life.

Dr. Phil

In order to answer these questions, having a more in depth look at the actual tv shows is needed. Looking at Dr. Phil, it can be quite obvious even to the occasional viewer, that the show thrives on people being desperate for help. Most of the guests of the show have had very traumatic events happen in their lives which led to substance abuse. By the time they appear on the show they are in a desperate state and have been suffering from their addiction for a very long time. After chronicling their lives for the audience, through broken tears Dr. Phil gives them an ultimatum. Dr. Phil offers free treatment at a rehabilitation centre if the participant goes right away, or they can go back to their miserable lives. Most guests end up taking up Dr. Phil on his offer, though what actually happens after is not well documented. In fact, when looking at the Dr. Phil website, you can see that their success stories never include people suffering from addiction. More recently, the show was accused of supplying alcohol and Xanax to Todd Herzog, who appeared on the show inebriated and needing to be helped off stage and presumably to a rehabilitation facility. Though the show denies these allegations, dragging people off the stage in tears seems to be a regular occurrence on the show.

Celebrity Rehab

Turning our attention to Celebrity Rehab, the same drama is advertised but through the professional lens of Dr. Drew, a long-time addictions doctor. By using Dr. Drew as an expert, the show chronicles celebrities who are going through treatment at the Pasadena Rehabilitation Centre. Like Dr. Phil, dramatic scenes of confrontations and crying are the mainstay of the show and is how they build their audience. Unlikeaddiction as entertainment Dr. Phil, it can be relatively easy to find out if these treatments worked, as the subjects are known to the public. Many of the celebrities who did the show relapsed and six of the participants died of drug or alcohol-related overdoses. This certainly makes the show seem not very successful and there have been questions about Dr. Drew exploiting people’s vulnerabilities for profit. When comparing the show to actual rehab facilities we can also see that the success rate is much higher in the “real” world. The fact that the show has a higher relapse rate than a regular rehabilitation centre is a pretty bleak reality. It certainly seems as though Celebrity Rehab really does only care about one thing: ratings.

Addiction as Entertainment

Both Dr. Phil and Celebrity Rehab perpetuate the stigma that is placed on addicts. On both shows, the addicts are shown in a state of disarray, often being portrayed as confrontational or violent. By showing these people at their worst, the shows are able to gain viewers, which after all is the main goal of the Entertainment Industry. It is not very clear whether either show has any “success” stories and long-term recovery does not seem to be in the picture. Though seeing an addict’s story on Dr. Phil or witnessing a celebrity go through the rehab process may inspire some to seek treatment for themselves, it is not likely to help anyone understand the difficulty of becoming sober. Going from addiction to sobriety is not an easy journey and for those seeking long-term recovery, the Entertainment Industry is not the place to turn for inspiration. Watching shows such as Dr. Phil and Celebrity Rehab is best done by those seeking entertainment, as the reality they portray is questionable. And unfortunately, until we are able to turn away from the car accident, addicts will continue to be stigmatized and these types of shows will continue to be popular.


Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

Image by Concord90 from Pixabay