Cliffside Malibu

Cliffside Malibu

By The Fix staff 03/08/12

The “beach-house-relaxed” Cliffside Malibu claims to provide an oasis for recovering addicts and alcoholics. And that’s just what you'll get—if you’ve got the cash.

Image: 
The view from one of Cliffside Malibu's therapy rooms.
Location : Malibu, Calif.
Phone : (800) 501-1988
Price : $58,000/mo. for a semi-private room; $78,000/mo. for a private room
Overall :
Accomodations :
Treatment :
Food :
Insurance : Yes
Detox : Yes
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An up-and-then-downhill drive to a secluded cul-de-sac leads those who need to dry out or clean up—from addictions that run the gamut from straight-up drinking problems to pot, prescription drugs, heroin and cocaine—to Cliffside Malibu, a sun-drenched, white-washed resort of a rehab, surrounded by wild lavender, rosemary and windswept greenery, and perched over four lush acres overlooking whitewater ocean views of the Pacific.

Gathered in the Southern California rehab center's comfortable, sofa-strewn living space, with French doors flung open to let in fresh sea breezes, you’ll find mostly white, well-off professional types in their late 20s to early 40s, along with a few recent college grads and some stay-at-home moms. Men and women come here in more or less even numbers, and there are often a handful of different ethnicities, gay people and old folks in residence, too.

In the same living/dining area, experienced chefs serve up a high-end buffet of just what you’d expect: healthy, well-balanced, organic when available and nutritious meals—even leaning towards gourmet—with plenty of fresh fruit and veggies. But don’t mistake Cliffside Malibu for a place that serves nothing but alfalfa sprouts and whole grains; bacon is available every morning at breakfast, and the beef tenderloin is a dinnertime favorite. And while indulgences such as coffee, snacks and sweets aren’t promoted, you won’t want for them, either. Kitchen staff even went on a Diet Coke run for one alumnus who said “no way” to the always-disappointing question, “Diet Pepsi OK?” As one alum put it, “You could go both ways but I chose to go healthy and dropped 25 pounds when I was there.”

At night, after turn-down service, residents bed down in luxurious shared or private rooms—“like staying at a five-star hotel”—which they are expected to keep tidy. But that’s really the only chore at Cliffside Malibu; this is in order to keep the focus squarely on a robust schedule of intimate group sessions, one-on-one therapy and activities. You can take walks on the beach; go hiking, surfing or horseback-riding; work out with a personal trainer; take yoga classes; or even swim laps in the rehab’s pool, which is always heated to 88 degrees. (The only thing to break up the Cali-healthy vibe is that there is “way too much smoking,” as well as over-caffeination due to plentiful gulped-down Red Bulls and cups of joe.) For the less physically adventurous, there’s acupuncture, meditation, art therapy, mani/pedis, massages and more. 

If all that sounds pretty cushy, you’re right: “I wouldn’t say Cliffside was laid-back—but I didn’t feel like I was being punished,” said one resident, describing an ethos that extends to treatment as well. Being on time for sessions is strongly encouraged (break a rule and you run the risk of getting “grinded” in group), but otherwise the therapy-based recovery regimen is tailored to individual needs. Similarly, while religion proper is downplayed, spirituality in general is emphasized; one alumnus noted a day trip that she and her class took to a “spiritual center of all religions"—the Self-Realization Fellowship at Pacific Palisades' Lake Shrine Temple and Retreat.

After detox or the first 72 hours of treatment, and outside of program hours, residents are free to surf the web, watch TV or use the phone to their heart’s content. But many choose instead to spend their time bonding with one of the rehab’s 30 or so top-notch staff—especially the therapists and resident assistants (RAs), who garner particularly high marks for their attentiveness and helpfulness. Although there are no live-in doctors, the on-call physicians are very accessible, helpful, responsive to patients’ needs and are remembered by former clients as being committed to getting to know each patient personally. One alum who went through detox five times before coming to Cliffside said it was the best detox experience he’d had—and most importantly, he hasn’t needed it since.

On the whole, residents really feel the love. “They honestly care,” said one, about the rehab's staff. “They helped me with issues I didn’t even realize I had that were contributing to my dependency. They treat you as a whole person.” Despite its steep price tag, Cliffside will sometimes take insurance in an effort to defray cost. Make no mistake: Cliffside Malibu is a great choice for anyone who has the means to recover there. 

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