Celebrity Rehab: How To Turn A PR Problem Into A Drug Addiction Issue


When ‘rehab’ becomes about reforming image over attaining abstinence, we all suffer writes Joshua Dabelstein.

The nature of our national conversation on recovery from drug and alcohol abuse is damaging the survival chances of the afflicted. The proposition that AFL player Shane Mumford now go into a rehab in order to mend whatever problem he has (and to say he has a drug problem would be speculative) is cause for great concern.

A video of Shane Mumford snorting cocaine from three years ago has done the rounds on major news media outlets. Radio, television, print media, and every medium in between have done their best to draw attention to the video.

According to the Greater Western Sydney Giants, there is a solution: rehab.

The fact that rehabs are being used as vehicles for public figures to perform public apologies is the exact opposite of why they exist.

Drug and alcohol rehabilitation clinics have the potential to save lives. I’ve seen it happen. The tools that a rehabilitation clinic can provide addicts and alcoholics lay a foundation for recovery to begin for those who are choosing between living life and death/jail/misery.

But make no mistake – a rehab and a recovery are two very different things.

Alcoholics and drug addicts in recovery worldwide understand what I’m on about, and with any understanding of the nature of the diseases of alcoholism and addiction I’m sure that you can understand too.

The thought that a sportsperson be put through a rehab in order to mend their public image is not only offensive, but helps to continue to promulgate the misnomer that substance abuse issues can be sorted out with a simple 28-day-stint in a rehab.

The levels of feigned concern, outrage, and hypocrisy, are in no way abnormalities when it comes to our national conversation on drugs and alcohol. But the idea that a stay in a rehab clinic mends and absolves those with substance abuse problems of their disease and their wrongdoings is an idea that has seen many an addict and alcoholic lose the battle.

The statistics are frightening. We shine a tragic light on our own misunderstanding of how to go about helping those with substance abuse problems every time we send a celebrity to rehab under the circumstances described in GWS’s statement regarding the issue.

Whether or not it is okay to snort cocaine is not in question. Personally, I don’t care, but I don’t have children, I don’t like cocaine, and even if I did like cocaine I cannot afford to touch the stuff.

The issue at hand is that we sigh in collective relief when someone we know personally or as a celebrity checks into a rehabilitation clinic, as though we believe that, like a course of antibiotics, this stint will fend off the issue.

Any addict or alcoholic who treats their disease the way that GWS is advocating cannot be blamed for misunderstanding the nature of the self-care necessary for themselves to recover. How could they, when the whole world treats the idea of rehab like a quick fix? Or worse, a PR stunt?

The idea that Mumford atone for a three-year-old video having surfaced online by going to a rehab damages our nation’s ability to understand the nature of addiction and alcoholism.

It provides a misleading and potentially life-threateningly inaccurate misunderstanding of why rehabilitation clinics exist, and what real addicts and alcoholics need to do in order to survive their affliction.

Joshua Dabelstein is a writer's writer and a sporadic New Matilda contributor.