NEW YORK (Reuters) -- Celebrities like actress Lindsay Lohan and pop star Britney Spears are making a mockery of rehabilitation programs by appearing not to take treatment seriously, U.S. addiction experts warned.
Lindsay Lohan was arrested Tuesday, days after leaving her second rehab stint
Lohan was arrested on Tuesday on a second drunken-driving charge just days after leaving her second stint in rehab flaunting an alcohol-monitoring ankle bracelet at nightclubs.
Spears twice spent less than a day in rehab before entering a third time for a month after behaving erratically.
"It is making a mockery of rehabs," said Harris Stratyner, a psychologist with Caron, a nonprofit addiction treatment organization.
"In some ways it's starting to make rehabs look like a joke and that's very sad because hundreds of thousands of people a year are saved."
Lohan, 21, spent a month in rehab in January. But after crashing her car on May 26, she checked in for another six weeks of treatment at another center. She was charged last week with drunken driving in relation to that accident.
Hours after Tuesday's arrest, Lohan's lawyer said she had suffered a relapse and was "presently receiving medical care." Watch mental health experts discuss their extreme concern for Lindsay Lohan »
In February, Spears checked into rehab -- for the third time in a week -- where she spent the minimum 30 days after a spree of high-profile partying and unusual behavior such as shaving off her hair.
Upon finishing treatment, the 25-year-old singer finalized her divorce from dancer and aspiring rapper Kevin Federline.
To avoid relapsing, rehab patients are advised to stay away from "high-risk" situations, including people who could put direct or subtle pressure on them and places where it is easy to obtain drugs or alcohol. They are also told to reduce the stress in their lives and engage in healthy activities.
Most treatment centers also recommend they attend a 12-step recovery program meeting every day for the first month after leaving rehab and then go regularly to such meetings.
Very serious illness
Jon Morgenstern, of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, said it was not uncommon for people to need several rounds of treatment but that those "waltzing" in and out of rehab for short periods could be perceived as not taking their problem seriously.
"I would hope that people understand that addiction is a very serious illness and that the perception in the public mind doesn't become that this is all a joke," he said.
"In the last 30 years, because high-profile people have sought treatment, it's become more socially acceptable that people do have alcohol and drug problems and need to get help," he said. "So I hope that tide is not turning against us."
According to research from Caron, relapse rates for addictive diseases range from 50 percent for resumption of heavy use to 90 percent for a brief lapse.
Residential rehab programs tend to be tailored to individual needs and involve individual and group therapy, therapeutic activities, daily lectures and family sessions.
U.S. government data show that in 2003 there were nearly 1.7 million admissions to publicly funded substance abuse treatment programs. The largest group entering treatment -- 15.6 percent -- were people aged 36 to 40. People aged 21 to 25 were fourth at 13.3 percent.
Research by the National Institute on Drug Abuse has shown that adults older than 55 are likely to have a better long-term recovery than middle-aged and younger adults, mainly because they were less likely to have close family or friends who encourage alcohol or drug use.
Janice Min, editor of US Weekly, a leading celebrity magazine, said that while the public is growing tired of the antics of young celebrities, they also cannot stop watching and find it "incredibly fascinating."
"Lindsay is almost becoming a Robert Downey Jr for a generation -- an incredibly gifted actor whose personal shortcomings just keep getting in the way," Min said.
Downey Jr struggled to overcome drug addiction and served jail time for cocaine possession.
"But one of the things with Hollywood celebrities is that forgiveness is a bottomless well among their fans," Min said. E-mail to a friend
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