“The thing about The Hills,” a former client tells me in a husky European accent, “is that it is not just a treatment center. Detox, primary care, sober living—it’s got it all! I stay for a year, and when it come time to go home, they get someone to clean my house for me so I can go home with my sober coach, and know there are no triggers around.”
And that just about sums it up. If you’ve got enough cash, this Mulholland Drive center will safely spend it for you, all under the guiding hand of Dr. Howard C. Samuels, a 58-year-old top LA psychologist—and recovering cocaine and heroin addict with over 26 years of sobriety. Before he entered the rehab business, recalls one industry insider, Samuels “was the go-to shrink for literally every wealthy member of AA in LA.” The affable, celeb-friendly owner gives Dr. Drew a run for his money by frequently popping up to discuss celebrity addiction scandals on TV news shows all across the dial. Adored by many former patients, he is also something of a controversial figure in the L.A. recovery scene. Dismissed by some competitors as "a kinder, gentler, less loopy version of eccentric [Passages co-founder] Chris Prentiss," he's very focused on the bottom line and "good at providing the luxuries his clients demand," says one recent client. Samuels founded his first rehab, Wonderland, with a fellow former Promises staffer named Bernadine Fried and her husband Alex Shohet, in 2006. Though the $48,000-$58,000-a-month facility was initially considered a success, internal battles, along with a less-than-tight-lipped interview to The New Yorker (which detailed those battles), caused Samuels to fire Fried and eventually shut down the rehab in 2008 (Fried now owns ONE80CENTER, which opened in 2010). Still, many of Samuels' former patients continue to talk about him in hushed, respectful tones and his signature group therapy sessions (which focus on "the beast," meaning "the addict inside that controls your actions") are widely respected within the center.
The facility itself is comprised of three luxury houses at the end of a private gated driveway on two-and-a-half acres of lush, green property deep in the hills. Decor is impeccable and stylish in the 14 bedrooms and separate, private two-bedroom cottage with its own personal detox doctor—David Kipper, a nurse and sober companion—for those who don’t want to slum it in the main facility. The other houses contain private rooms with warm, Mediterranean style décor reminiscent of a rustic French country-hotel (all fluffy white duvets and wrought-iron bed stands). With Wifi throughout the premises, The Hills certainly isn’t one of the stricter treatment centers, though computer access is gradually introduced. Because of the small size, the emphasis is on devising individualized treatment programs of one-on-one therapy and group sessions, combined with education classes and art, gardening, and morning meditation. Oh, and if you want to take your pooch along to watch you tremble through DT’s? Feel free.
Days start with wake up at 7:30 am, a daily meditation and breakfast followed by groups, classes and individual therapy sessions throughout the day. There are two pools and several onsite yoga classes every week as well as staff-led hikes in the surrounding hills and a membership provided at Crunch gym. Members of The Hills’ staff (most of whom are in recovery themselves) are also happy to research and provide alternatives depending on clients’ preferences. Food is—of course!—healthy, nutritious, and provided by a “world class gourmet chef” whose specialty is healthy versions of classics, including seared tenderloin with lobster tails, chicken with wild mushroom ragout and quinoa salads. Meals are tailored to the request of the individual: whether they're vegetarian, vegan, on a low carb-diet, or simply seeking to gain maximum nutrition with a healthily balanced meal. According to one client, “The chef pretty much cooks everything and anything and it all tastes good.”
And that’s the thing about The Hills. It can do pretty much everything and anything, and it all goes down well. If you’re the kind of person who has $50 grand to burn on employing babysitters to nurse you through sobriety before handing you back your life with cell phone privileges restored, that’s great. But does it teach you how to be sober? “After a six month stay, the staff became like family to me,” says one alum. “And sure, they were there for me when I left, offering support and meetings, but there’s still a huge bridge to gap between relying on your treatment center and living sober alone without any coaches or staff around.” Ay, there’s the rub....