The Celebreality Interview – Dr. Drew

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You may know Dr. Drew Pinsky from radio and MTV’s Loveline, or from CNN’s Strictly Sex With Dr. Drew, or from his writing and research. Or you may know him just as that hot guy who knows, like, everything about everything. He’s bringing his expertise as an addictionologist to VH1 via Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew, a new Celebreality show that debuts Thursday, Jan. 10 at 10/9c. The series chronicles the substance-abuse rehabilitation of eight celebrities (Brigitte Nielsen, Mary Carey, Jeff Conway, Chyna Doll, Jessica Sierra, Seth “Shifty” Binzer, Jaimee Foxworth and Daniel Baldwin). If you think this sounds like a trainwreck sliding your way…well, you may be surprised to find how quiet, reflective and sensitive the show actually is.

But don’t take our word for it. After the jump, Dr. Drew talks about the conception of the show, the treachery of treating famous people and why drug addicts are funny.

It seems like a show like Celebrity Rehab or whatever came before it (Intervention, for example) inherently walks a fine line: the intention is to show people the process of rehab, but it could also be taken as exploitation.

The basic note is that everyone understood what they were getting into. We’re all grownups. These people wanted and needed help and they very courageously were willing to do it in front of other people, if it would help other people. Our task was to finally end the nonsense that’s tossed about about chemical-dependency treatment or rehab, that it’s some kind of vacation. We want to show people what this really is so people can understand how it should go down if they’re not getting good treatment, and for people contemplating treatment, hopefully it will encourage them.

We’re living in a trainwreck culture. People turn on their TVs to delight in watching famous people fall apart. Were you ever concerned that people might laugh at Celebrity Rehab, especially on the first episode when many of the participants show up in altered states?

Drug addicts are funny. Out of the most poignant moments comes great comedy. We use comedy and laughter to deal with these intense experiences, and that goes for our staff and our patients. To make light of or to belittle these people’s experiences, that concerns me. However, to laugh at them comes from a deeply connected place. People are funny. People are funny even in the most intense circumstances.

In the pool of celebrities that you have amassed, do you think that fame is the root of their collective problem?

Absolutely not. I’ve done the only scientific research done on that topic, and we were able to show that people with pathology desire to be celebrity. People come to their celebrity status already with the pathology. I think you see that the issues that are very commonly underlying most celebrity personality structures on this show: the trauma, the addiction, the abandonment, the abuse. All of that is an exceedingly common history in people that strive to be celebrities.

This show is almost an anti-reality show, considering the basic template of reality shows (especially on VH1): in many cases, you get a group of people together, ply them with alcohol and see what insanity ensues. In this case, you’re getting a group of people together and taking away the booze.

This is not a reality show. This is showing reality.

What are your feelings on AA or faith-based recovery programs?

Without some sort of spiritual experience, people don’t get well. That’s just a fact. Whatever that means to the individual varies. They have to be willing to get out of their own heads, basically, and have faith that the world won’t spin out of control if they don’t control it. Narcissism is a key personality element and you have to get people out of that. They have to be able to transcend a bit, whatever that means to them.

As a doctor, when you’re treating people who are famous, is there any sort of unintentional bias that affects you?

Not me, but that’s the treachery of treating famous people. Doctors, like other people, love basking in the narcissistic glow of fame, and they feel very gratified when a famous person goes, “Oh, you’re the best doctor in the world!” They go, “This person thinks I’m the best doctor!” That’s how celebrities end up getting their drugs. That’s how they stay in their disease. I hope this show shows that we just treat everyone as a drug addict, not as a star.

How are you particularly able to avoid the aforementioned treachery? Is it just in your character to not be seduced by celebrity?

It just comes from treating addicts for years and years and years and learning from that. Early in my career, I had a couple experiences where I treated, particularly, one very famous movie star. I treated her specially, gave her a special room and stuff and it ended up being a catastrophe for the patient. I learned early that you don’t treat anyone as special. When you give an addict special consideration, you give them license to maintain their disease. So everyone’s just a human being with a common illness. Everyone gets the best possible intervention, and that’s that. And that’s how I’ve been doing it for the past 15 years. As I’ve maintained that philosophy, I’ve looked around to see what other people are doing and realized that special treatment is exactly why celebrities stay addicted.

Did your doctor-patient confidentially agreement impose hurdles on making a show like this?

It was bizarre! Everyday, I would tell the patients, “We’re putting on our space suits now. We’re gonna walk on the surface of a planet that no one’s ever been on.” This is all new. Everyone signed away their confidentiality but…it was just weird. A very, very strange circumstance. Once we navigated all that, we got used to it, but now there’s the question of what all of this attention is going to do to these people. Will it be a good thing? A bad thing? Who knows. So far, it’s been a good thing. Most people are staying sober.

To be honest, this whole show is weird to me, since my job basically revolves around reality television and I’m really well-versed in trainwreckism. I expected this show to be a mess all the way through, but…it’s not. It’s much quieter and profound than that. It’s shocking.

God bless VH1 for approaching it the way they did. (Laughing) I don’t think any other network could have tolerated it. They didn’t understand it going in. How do you explain to someone what this is? How do you say, “This is how treatment goes”? You can’t sum it up in a sentence. All I could say was, “A lot will happen. I can’t say what. Please don’t reality-show it.” Three days in, [VH1 exec] Jeff Olde came to me and said, “We get it. We see what’s going on here. If there’s anything we can do to support you, let us know. We’ll see you in three weeks.” I don’t think any other network or any other executive on the planet would have done that. That really allowed the show to be what it is. It really allowed us to keep these people safe and actually treat them.

My constant refrain for everyone who wants to go negative on this show is: watch the show first. It speaks for itself. Anyone who has been hired to be negative, we’ve shown them the shows and they’ve had a 180 degree turnaround. It is treatment. It is the human experience. It doesn’t pull any punches.

Meet some of the celebrities below and click here to see photos of the entire cast.

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Jessica Sierra (Former Idol)
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Mary Carey (Porn Star)
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Jeff Conaway (Actor)

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