NEW YORK – When celebrities and socialites confront substance abuse they often retreat to luxurious rehab centers where days are spent in therapy and on the tennis court.
But do marble floors, massages and ocean views help the wealthy beat their demons any more effectively than a standard rehab center?
"We're at the high end," said Chris Prentiss, co-founder of Passages, a Malibu, Calif., rehab facility that charges $39,500 per month.
"We have celebrity patients but a lot of others as well," he said. "They borrow money from their parents, use their savings, whatever they have to do … because this is the only place in the world they can get this kind of treatment."
And it's likely the only rehab center with a Statue of Liberty replica on the lawn.
The itinerary at Passages sounds like a vacation: yoga, reflexology and massage at a beautiful $15 million estate. "After a day of digging into your past you need relaxation," Prentiss explained.
Another Malibu rehab retreat, Promises, is where celebs like Ben Affleck and Robert Downey Jr. have sought sobriety. But Prentiss says Promises doesn't deliver, pointing out that Diana Ross entered in May but has already relapsed and reentered the program. Downey has also been in and out of the facility.
Repeated calls to Promises were not returned.
A lack of individual attention and a failure to look at underlying health problems is what causes relapses, said Prentiss.
"All the other treatment programs in the world have the same basic program," he said. "They have several group meetings a day and an AA meeting at night. Usually only once a week they can meet with a drug or alcohol counselor one-on-one."
Prentiss speaks from experience: His son Pax tried a range of rehab centers but couldn't kick his habit. The formula the father-son team created is what saved him.
Passages gives each patient a complete physical, including one test Prentiss stresses is essential but ignored by other clinics: an EEG, which measures brain waves.
"We had one of the world's wealthiest women here. She was in and out of dozens of rehab centers where they sat her in group meetings," he said. "We found she had a fast pulse rate, so she had started drinking to fall asleep at night and that got to be a habit. All we had to do was give her a simple medication to lower her pulse. She's been sober for 138 days now."
Most standard rehab facilities give patients physicals, said Michelle Sheehy of The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.
Stuyvesant Square in New York City, which accepts Medicare and Medicaid, and is therefore affordable, doesn't offer the amenities of Passages. But Beth Israel Medical Center, which services Stuyvesant, has a full-service in-patient rehab center with medical staff at the ready.
"One advantage of being a hospital-based program is that we can take people who are medically compromised," said Kevin MacColl, treatment manager at Stuyvesant. "A free-standing facility may not be able to help them or they would have to leave frequently for outside treatment."
MacColl is adamant that group therapy is an excellent form of treatment.
"Addiction is an isolating illness," he said. "Group therapy is a modality of treatment. It's what works best with addicts. In a group they see other people share problems like them."
A typical day at Stuyvesant is far from glamorous. Patients reside in dormitory-style rooms and eat hospital food. They attend lectures, group therapy, an AA meeting, and take one supervised walk around hospital grounds.
But whether walking Malibu's beaches or strolling a hospital courtyard, the keystone of quality treatment is one that improves patients physically, mentally and spiritually, said Sheehy.
"When substance abuse first started it was one alcoholic helping another," she said. "Adding psychologists, psychiatrists and other professionals to treatment centers has improved the comprehensiveness of the programs."
While the bill at Passages seems steep, the average cost of a 28-day program is $30,000, Sheehy said. Insurance usually only covers a few days.
But what a patient pays pales in comparison to the country's tally. Alcohol and drug abuse costs the American economy an estimated $276 billion per year, according to a Brandeis University study.
There are approximately 18 million Americans who have alcohol problems and nearly six million suffer from drug addiction. Famous or not, addicts need quality care.
"I don't think a cookie-cutter approach works, you need to tailor programs," Sheehy said. "We're seeing more and more places that offer different things according to individual needs."