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Jan 29, 2020

Over the last 20 years, the topics of substance use and treatment have become the stuff of televised entertainment: heart-wrenching stories of desperation and redemption, of suffering and survival. Shows like A&E’s Intervention and VH1’s Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, which depict people with substance use disorders and their experiences navigating recovery in rehab, have gone a long way to shape our common narratives about what addiction is and how it should be addressed. 
The central conceit of these shows is that anyone struggling with addiction must follow the same road to recovery: stay at a for-profit treatment facility for approximately one to three months, requiring, among other things, complete abstinence from drugs and/or alcohol, no matter how excruciating or dangerous. While these methods are effective for some, they’re profoundly harmful for others. 
In promoting this one-size-fits-all approach to treatment—which can be accompanied by punitive and often humiliating experiences—these shows reinforce techniques and philosophies that are not only scientifically debunked, but also have the potential to endanger people’s lives. Meanwhile, they serve as an advertising platform for these for-profit rehab centers themselves, many of which have been shown to be prohibitively expensive, ineffective, and, in some cases, deadly. 
On this episode, we examine the pseudoscience, myths, and fundamentally quasi-christian self-help ideology promulgated by this genre of television; the ways in which these shows exploit addiction for the sake of story; and the relationship between rehab television and the multibillion-dollar for-profit treatment industry. 
Our guest is journalist and author Maia Szalavitz.