So much for the alcohol-sensing anklet

Lohan's relapse stories offer insight into addiction. If anyone's interested.

By Lynn Harris

Published July 25, 2007 2:09PM (EDT)

Man, it's like watching a car wreck. Specifically, a black Mercedes smashing into some Beverly Hills, Calif., shrubs, followed approximately two months later -- and just weeks after a stint in rehab -- by a bizarre not-so-high-speed chase terminating in the parking lot of the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium with an arrest on suspicion of drunken driving and cocaine possession. These, of course, are the latest incidents -- the latter just Tuesday -- in the lurching, careening saga of otherwise promising actor Lindsay Lohan, whose film roles seem (seemed?) to be growing up faster than she is. Lohan canceled a scheduled appearance last night on "The Tonight Show"; she was replaced by, as if things weren't already depressing enough, Rob Schneider.

According to various accounts of yesterday's arrest, police received an emergency call from the mother of Lohan's former personal assistant, reporting that Lohan was chasing her in her car. The assistant had apparently quit hours earlier. Lohan's attorney says she is receiving medical treatment.

Several things remain uncertain: 1) the effectiveness of Lohan's clunky alcohol-detecting anklet, unlikely to be mimicked as a fashion accessory, 2) the reason why Lohan does her own driving, 3) Lohan's future. (Which, by the way, could involve jail time.)

What's most obvious -- and yet (not surprisingly) least often reported with any perspicacity -- is that Lohan has a serious substance abuse problem. Duh, I know, but really. One might like to believe that (if these reports are accurate) Lohan was chasing that poor woman because she had, oh, forgotten her umbrella. But this is Los Angeles, and this is addiction: Relapses are more likely than rain.

The Detroit Free Press was among the few who put Lohan's rather spectacular relapse in the context of real-life recovery. For one thing, relapse is common to begin with, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. "It's tough enough to recover from an addiction. To have to do it in a fishbowl, it's daunting," said Jim Balmer, president of Dawn Farm, a treatment center in Ypsilanti, Mich. "Celebrity stints in rehab centers often seem to be little more than public relations stunts, more geared toward rehabbing a star's image than dealing with an addiction. That doesn't help with public understanding of addiction recovery," the Freep added. (Some people also question the effectiveness of resortlike rehab centers; L.A.'s ABC affiliate pointed out that fancy digs are usually the only way to prune away excuses and lure celebrities in. That way they can't say, "I can't go there because it's a dump," said one facility director.) The Freep also makes clear that people don't leave treatment centers "cured." Rather, that's when the process of learning to manage their problem in the real world begins.

And, of course, trying to manage drug addiction in Hollywood is like trying to manage caffeine addiction in Starbucks. As one professional counselor told USA Today, "An addict who doesn't want to get sober but got caught will go into treatment, play the game and come out but won't follow through. People, places and things have to change. If they haven't gotten into the fact they're an addict, they'll go back to the same friends and the same habits."

Oh, Lindsay. One hopes -- for her sake, of course, but also for the millions of girls who, like it or not, follow her every move -- that Lohan's future will be less River Phoenix, more Drew Barrymore. And that, to the minor degree that can be hoped for, the round-the-clock (unless you're CNN's Jack Cafferty) media coverage will be more reality of addiction, less Deuce Bigelow. After all, we do love a car wreck, but I'd like to think we love a redemption story even more.

Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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