Each week on Rehab With Dr. Drew, we’ll be talking to some of the staff on hand at the Pasadena Recovery Center to find out everything that went down in front of and behind the camera with this season’s group of patients. This week we spoke to Dr. John Sharp, who appeared last season on Celebrity Rehab and was this season’s Associate Medical Director, Psychiatrist on Call, and Director of Aftercare for the program. Dr. Sharp worked closely with the patients to make sure they remained stable and successful throughout the recovery process.
How was the experience of filming this season overall?
Well, so you’ll remember that I only have last season to compare, so compared to my year of treating celebrities this has been a refreshingly different. You know the patients came to us from a variety of places and a variety of ways, but they’re all youngish and eager really to see how they can kind of get their going in a different direction. Everybody came with a freshness and an enthusiasm and the stated interest to get their lives kind of on track in a way that they’ve either hadn’t ever been or hadn’t been in a while. It was just a really good energy, I think.
Dr. Drew has said that nothing shocks him anymore because his job is to work with these patients who have the hardest addictions to break, and I didn’t know if that was the same with you, or if this level of addiction is a little new to you?
Oh no, I’m used to working with this level of addiction, but I don’t exclusively work with this level, so I see people who have –– maybe they come see me for something else. Maybe they come to see me for a work problem or difficulty in school or getting along with family or maybe there’s some mood instability or depression or anxiety and then I assess quickly that an alcohol or drugs are playing a significant role and then I target that and get some attention paid to helping people with the very first steps in terms of achieving sobriety or making sobriety a goal. I often see people a little earlier in the disease process, these folks, obviously they’re all pre-diagnosed in one way or another. If not by a doctor, certainly by their significant habits, which are pretty ingrained and pretty severe. So I think what Dr. Drew was saying is that he sees the pretty severe cases routinely and I think that was because he ran a substance abuse inpatient treatment service, so by the time you get referred to an inpatient treatment service you got bad problem. You have to be pretty sick to get in the hospital these days.
That question came because I was shocked with the level of exposure and the amount of drugs that we were seeing on the show.
All my friends are like “I can’t watch that.” I’m like “You have to watch the show, it’s so good!” They’re like “Oh I can’t watch it, I can’t see all those needles!” We’re also showing more of what people’s lives were like before they got to PRC. We’re seeing more of their journey just before they got here. Even for me as a doctor, even knowing what I’m dealing with, it’s really shocking and intense to see how people are treating themselves and what’s happening as a result.
In these first few episodes, can you talk about what your role is — like you said, you kind of deal with them at the beginning of this process, so what do you do to welcome them into the facility and get them mentally prepared for what they’re going to do?
When every patient checked in, they all went through the same experience, which was to find their room and have their bags checked, and go over their medications that they came in with, with Shelly and then go meet Dr. Drew. And then right after meeting Dr. Drew they met with me and I did a psychiatric evaluation. So I helped with greeting them and identifying together with them what would be our goals of treatment. I wanted to be sure they had enough of an understanding of what was in store as we began and I wanted to make sure that they were not suicidal or homicidal and that they were able to talk about their moods. I had a good sense of where they were at in terms in their level of mood problems and anxiety problem, so a good psychiatric evaluation starts there.
Was there anybody that you were specifically worried about?
Well, I was worried about everybody, but in different ways. So in the beginning I was worried about Eric, because he seemed pretty hardcore even though he was a very nice guy to get along with. He and I have a Boston connection and so we kind of had a nice initial bond between us. Knowing what he had been up to was worrying about his withdrawal and how that they may be overwhelming for him. Ashleigh came in looking like she was already unstable in some way, maybe she smiled and it seemed like okay we’re off to a good start for just a fleeting moment, but then she, you could even see I think in, if not the first or second episode her physical instability and so I clearly was concerned about her withdrawal. And the difficulties that she was having expressing how she was feeling.
Episode 3 is where Erika really reveals her history with her relationship and her suicidal history. I guess I was really surprised by her, because she did seem sort of like her outlook was pretty sunny at first and she just seemed like she wasn’t quite as hard as some of the other people, so when she revealed all of that it was really surprising.
Right! And that’s a good example of what happens in my private practice office every day. There’s often time some kind of sort of surprise or mismatch between someone’s history and what they initially reveal. A lot of people try to fend off pain by appearing to be more together or to be healthy. It isn’t necessarily like some big conscious manipulation, up to no good, or trying to pretend that everything fine or –– it’s not that it’s just that you’re trying to avoid even recognizing this little extent of your pain.
We also saw some loved ones in this episode, and in this case it seems like Erika’s boyfriend and Drewbee’s father Jeff were enabling their habits. Do you actively work with them throughout the process?
In order to provide excellent care you really have to take a family approach and you have to take a look at the role of significant others, family, or close friends, lovers and try to understand whether these folks are going to be able to help in recovery, be part of the recovery process, or perhaps be in the way of it, so we definitely did. Long before family day I was on the phone trying to make myself available and understand what each of the cast we’re dealing with.
What was more striking to me was Drewbee’s father, I mean obviously he was giving him drugs to regulate him, but I didn’t now if that came from his fear of his own addiction and having been there or if it was more of a fear of just losing his son.
Well it was both, it was his own addiction experience, fear of losing son and sort of maintain a connection to his son no matter what, and I think it was also a manifestation of a difficulty Drewbee’s father had and setting limits, where he should go and when he should not go somewhere on behalf of his son, so he actually was very open to anything that Dr. Drew and I had to offer, you know suggestions and advice and in terms of direction. He was able to learn about co-dependency and has done a good job of stepping back and that was really important in Drewbee’s case. I’m pretty sure that in one of the episodes we’ll see how that played out in one critical moment when he was having a hard time staying through the treatment with us.
There’s an underlying theme of some of these patients being “good kids” despite their drug use, and, I think maybe this is more about the viewers of the show, myself included, who have perceptions of what a drug addict “should” look like, but you see a so-called “good” kid like Michael and it’s jarring to see that he’s a 40-bag-a-day addict. But then you see someone like Eric who, it’s less surprising because he seems like a tough kid, but he’s very kind. So you just kind of have this mental block of like “How could someone so nice—“
—Be this sick. And this could be the kid down the hall or the kid down the block or this could one of your friend’s nephews. It’s easy to see these nice, young people and be amazed at how messed up early there lives have become, because of addiction. You don’t get the sense that there’s a whole lot of choice involved, it isn’t like you’re making a decision every day to make your life miserable. It’s the continued use despite the consequences, which is one of the criteria of addiction. Increasing preoccupation, increasing quantities, that’s really the disease of addiction that’s taking hold. It’s important to note that we’re not just seeing people making stupid choices, we’re seeing the ravages of the disease of addiction.
I think that’s maybe the clear difference as a viewer between this show and Celebrity Rehab, you’re never really surprised to see a celebrity to go down this path in a way.
Yeah, that figures. Here are these kids you might see in the neighborhood and you just can’t believe how this is really playing out and the way you can understand that is by understanding addiction. So that’s a good point we stumbled upon. We’re seeing the results of addiction and dependency and we’re seeing how it can certainly and does happen to anybody every day.