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For many people, drug recovery conjures images of clinical detox facilities and foldable chairs in church basements. For others, rehab is more luxurious, quite literally; resorts that charge $30,000 a month for five-star meals, round-the-clock waitstaff, and acres of space for everything from horseback riding to tennis courts. The amenities are impressive, but they raise the question: Is luxury rehab more effective in curbing addiction?
What are luxury treatment centers? Also known as “executive” or “private” facilities, they are geared toward high-profile (celebrity) or rich clients, offering expensive services that are not typically found at public (state-funded) or smaller private centers. Since luxury rehab centers have very deep pockets, they not only hire and retain the best addiction and mental health professionals, they also retain the services of specialty and adjunct therapists, such as yoga instructors, art teachers, dance teachers, cooking teachers, and people from a variety of backgrounds who offer various outlets for expression and creativity to help clients in their rehabilitation. Additional staff might include onsite marriage counselors, family therapists, and legal experts, ensuring that the client does not have to leave the confines of the treatment center in order to receive more services.
From the outside, private rehab facilities can look more like expensive getaways for the rich than an effective model for curbing substance abuse. The Fix explains that clients at such facilities have their own bedrooms, which look more like luxury suites than a simple hospital room; nutritious meals are prepared by five-star chefs, where breakfast is a serving of eggs, yogurt, cereal, fruit and oatmeal, and dinner is made from locally grown grilled fish or meat. There are top-of-the-line gyms, massage services, tennis courts, swimming pools, acupuncture clinics, private beaches, and even business centers that allow executives and celebrities to stay on top of their commitments, all while receiving treatment. Some centers provide onsite childcare, accommodation for family members, and even afterschool programs for children.
Luxury rehab centers offer conveniences that small or public treatment programs might only dream of, but it has led people to wonder if these facilities truly add anything substantial to curbing addiction or if it is all about comfort. Many people have criticized exclusive treatment centers, pointing to the exorbitantly high admission fees and seemingly opulent amenities for rich people. Bloomberg Businessweek admits that it is “easy to sneer” at such an arrangement.
But Bloomberg points out that for people who are very wealthy, the trappings of mainstream, “average-priced” rehab don’t always work. Some respond well to stepping away from the luxury and comfort they are used to; others need that security all the more.
One of the main selling points in the effectiveness of luxury rehab is that clients get individualized attention. In a public program, doctors might be responsible for a number of clients at a time; exclusive resorts have a much smaller client population, with some making it a point to never have more than a tiny number of clients at a time. As a result, each client receives maximized attention and care.
Jamison Monroe, Jr. was a patient at a private treatment facility in Malibu. He was kicked out of school, arrested five times, and went in and out of rehab for cocaine, drinking, suicidal thoughts, and self-harm. He finally found effective treatment thanks to the wide array of individual services at an exclusive rehab that cost $2,200 a day; a primary therapist, a family therapist, a recovery counselor, and a spiritual therapist all helped him see that his drug abuse and destructive behavior were fueled by “a lack of self-worth that all the money in the world couldn’t help him overcome,” and that the sense of privilege he enjoyed all his life was part of the problem.
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This is the “Malibu model” of treating drug and alcohol addiction as well as other forms of behavioral disorders, such as compulsive eating, shopping, gambling, or sexual activity. The model was conceived as alternative to the “one-size-fits-all” approach of standard group-based therapy programs, that (according to proponents of the Malibu mode) treated every client in the same way. At luxury treatment facilities, the resources are plentiful enough to treat every unique and idiosyncratic issue that each client has, providing everything from spiritual advisors and secondary coaches, to cooking instructors and dance teachers.
To this effect, the Malibu Model offers what it calls “integrative addiction treatment,” providing as comprehensive and holistic an approach to curbing addiction as possible. To outsiders, the horseback riding and yoga might seem unnecessary, but for people who have an unhealthy relationship with their wealth and the influence it brings, luxury treatment centers give them a place where they can reconnect with nature, discover their spiritual side, learn how to take care of themselves, and focus on their physical and psychological wellbeing. For all this to be offered by a single treatment center, away from prying eyes and the limitations of public treatment programs, gives luxury facilities many advantages over other rehab settings.
Addiction treatment in exclusive treatment centers include an entire team of specialists, consisting of psychiatrists, internists, and specialty doctors providing everything that a client would conceivably need to be rehabilitated. This gives the administration of the center total control over the services they provide, and it gives clients a sense of consistency as their treatment moves through its different phases.
Another point for the effectiveness of the luxury rehab model is how it gets clients to stay in treatment for as long as possible. While this might look like simply enjoying a comfortable setting and exclusive services, it also does mean that clients maximize their exposure to therapy and rehabilitation in as relaxing an environment as possible. These are advantages that public programs struggle to offer, as there is usually a long list of people waiting to receive treatment, and staff members are overburdened as they try to rotate clients in and out of residency as expediently as possible.
But if clients are allowed to take their time, there is a greater likelihood that they will reap the deepest and fullest range of benefits that their luxury rehab has to offer. If this means paying thousands of dollars a month, or even a day, for five-star meals, it also means a better chance of maintaining recovery once treatment has completed.
After he graduated from the private treatment center in Malibu, Jamison Monroe, Jr. opened his own luxury rehab for wealthy teens: Newport Academy, where the staff-to-client ratio is just 4:1. Newport charges clients $40,000 a month. For wealthy parents who have teenagers who struggle with substance abuse and depression, “what’s the price on a kid’s life?” Monroe asked rhetorically.
Newport Academy is an extension of the idea that “rich addicts need a different kind of treatment from the rest of us,” explains Bloomberg Businessweek, specifically addressing the issue of “affluenza” – a neologism to describe how an abundance of wealth conditions children, teenagers, and young adults to develop without any sense of consequence or responsibility for their actions. Monroe, 35 years old at the time of the Bloomberg profile, said that he doesn’t believe in affluenza as a mental health condition, but stressed the importance of destigmatizing the shame of people – rich or poor – going through a very difficult process.
While others may scoff at the perks of luxury rehab, people like Monroe who run them say that those same perks are therapeutic. Yoga and meditation, for example, bring out personal transformation. Even horseback riding “helps kids focus and care for something other than themselves,” by building trust and entering a relationship from a healthy and supportive mindset.
Monroe’s approach is consistent with that of the school of thought that champions luxury rehab: The focus on a client’s willpower is misguided. The author of a book that criticized the 12-Step model said that programs like Alcoholics Anonymous “force people to be contrite,” presenting recovery as a paradigm of punishment and prayer, which is a common criticism of the program. Exclusive treatment centers, like Monroe’s, employ alumni coordinators whose job it is to connect with clients after they leave, and keep those clients engaged with their treatment community after they graduate, coming back for reunions, group activities, parties, and the like.
This, says Monroe, has given his academy a success rate of 85 percent. One graduate said that her time at Newport was the opposite of “a shame-based program,” because she felt loved and cared for in a beautiful house, to the point where she felt comfortable to talk about things that she had never voiced (low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression that, as the child of wealthy parents, “was like a taboo topic”). Another client acknowledged that the population of exclusive treatment centers tend to be people who have been well looked after their whole lives, and would struggle to meet recovery milestones in a more structured environment like Alcoholics Anonymous.
However, there is still structure at a luxury facility. Other rehabs have “family weekend,” but Monroe’s center requires regular sessions with a family therapist; the academy’s family program director is tasked with engaging families into the treatment program of their loved one, which can be a tricky subject to deal with among wealthy clans. The presence and the influence of money can be an enabler, especially for successful and driven people who spend more time at the office than they do at home. Some parents are legitimately surprised that expensive gifts and private schools can still be a form of neglect to a child or adolescent.
So as not to create an association that wealth means neglect, luxury rehab facilities present the point that even though money does not equal love, there’s nothing wrong with working hard to make money and then enjoying the lifestyle that comes with that. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with being unhappy in that lifestyle, and even the wealthiest of children have a right to mental health and substance abuse therapy. Proponents of luxury treatment centers say that removing vulnerable people from that lifestyle and putting them into the trappings of mainstream treatment is too drastic a step and even a harmful one.
Despite the scorn that the general public heaps on the affluent in their times of distress, there are genuine challenges to growing up wealthy, notes CNN. Psychologists have commented on how the children of rich parents are “becoming increasingly troubled, reckless and self-destructive,” and the standard 12-Step treatment may not be the best fit for them. While these programs are not financially feasible for many, luxury rehab programs can present genuine help to people who can afford their services.
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