Can We Please Stop Stigmatizing Addiction, Recovery and Lindsay Lohan?

04/24/2013 03:48 pm ET | Updated Jun 24, 2013
  • Deni Carise Dr. Deni Carise is a nationally recognized expert in substance abuse & behavioral health and Chief Clinical Officer at Recovery Centers of America (RCA).

It has been almost two weeks since Lindsay Lohan appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman and, even with last week's horrific events in Boston, I just can't seem to get this interview out of my mind. To me, the interview was a perfect demonstration of the continuing stigma surrounding addiction and treatment. The sad irony is that the person helping perpetuate the stigma has previously acknowledged, on his own show, that he "used to be a horrible alcoholic."

I realize Lindsay has not done much to convince us that she is ready to change her hard-partying lifestyle -- she allegedly made a point of putting off rehab long enough to attend the West Coast rock-fest Coachella, after all. But, by definition, rehabilitation is the restoration of health and, contrary to popular belief, more stints in rehab actually predict treatment success, not treatment failure. This could be Lindsay's time, her chance at recovery and lifelong change.

Yet Letterman and others mock Ms. Lohan -- to her face no less -- and make jokes at her expense simply because this troubled young woman continues to struggle with substances and make mistakes on a world stage. The starlet's media tour was intended to promote her new movie, yet the talk show host spent less than one minute of an almost 15-minute interview talking about the film. The barrage of personal questions was to be expected, certainly, yet Lindsay remarks that none of them were part of her pre-interview discussions.

Lohan was perfectly graceful under pressure amidst the incessant questioning of her troubles, even charming the audience by playing along at some points. But what is it with the obsession to see someone fail and laugh at their attempts to improve their life? Why aren't we equally as interested in people's successes?

In my opinion, one of the things the field of addiction treatment lacks is the promotion of recovery. Too often, people are reluctant to say they once had a problem with drugs and alcohol. Rest assured if you are famous, the media will crucify you if you relapse. Unfortunately this makes high-profile and everyday people alike unwilling to be open about their recovery, to speak of their incredible successes and triumphs post-addiction. Even though people in recovery are all around us, the public rarely gets to see those who are doing well, holding high-level jobs, have gone on to be great employees and wonderful parents. Chances are we all know someone in recovery in this day and age -- your father, your brother, your cousin, your friend, maybe even you? -- with wonderful and fulfilling lives. Wouldn't it be great to hear of these numerous stories of determination and courage, and have the message passed along that treatment can work and recovery is possible? This could give hope to the more than 21 million people in our country who are abusing or dependent on drugs or alcohol. And there's nothing more important than that.

Given our current preoccupation with disastrous lifestyles and recovery failures, the mistaken belief that those addicted to drugs or alcohol never get better or are in some way weak or forever damaged, and the ongoing stigma surrounding addiction -- perpetuated by the very people who should know better -- is it any wonder why so many are silent about their recovery? I've been part of the recovering community for over 25 years, and there have definitely been times when having people know is a plus and times when it has been a liability. For me, there came a time, about 15 years ago, when I knew that the good my "being out" about my recovery could do for people still suffering with drugs or alcohol was greater than the harm it could do to me.

Godspeed in recovery, Lindsay. I'll be rooting for you. And when you do achieve recovery, because I believe you will, I hope you'll wear it proudly, for Letterman and the entire world to see.

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

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