The High Cost of Rehab

By Dirk Hanson 06/07/11

The treatment industry is expected to become a $34 billion business by 2014. Do you get what you pay for?

You can’t afford it.
Photo via priveswiss

It was gratifying to read the recent article by Catherine News at AOL DailyFinance and find quotes from The Fix’s own co-founder & editor at large, treatment specialist Joe Schrank. The article said that celebs like Whitney Houston and Amy Winehouse “have the means to bounce in and out of pricey addiction-treatment centers," but what, she wonders, is the true cost of rehab for regular folks? "I don't think that paying more guarantees a better result," said Schrank. "People who are willing to throw $120,000 at a problem are going to have exacting standards that will create some kind of imperfection and unhappiness."

Some observers see the treatment industry becoming a $34 billion business by 2014, more than twice the size it was in 2005. There are more than 11,000 addiction treatment centers in the U.S., says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Insurance coverage is spotty, and most long-term residential programs rely on addicts or the families and friends of addicts to come up with the difference. John Fitzgerald, a leading psychologist specializing in addiction, said, “I really struggle when families mortgage the house or drain their retirement funds to send a loved one to a residential program. That same $30,000 can pay for great out-patient care over a much longer period of time." Dr. Fitzgerald also advocates for increasing treatment in the primary health care system. "We know that brief interventions and medications can be very effective in the right time and context," he says. "Most people don't need thousands of dollars in programs."

Dr. Marvin Seppala, the chief medical officer at Hazelden, suggested that “the prevalence of drug and alcohol problems in the entertainment industry, where discretion and luxury have high value, has driven the growth of expensive treatment centers.” Ever wonder why so many high-end rehabs are located in California and Florida? Think climate, baby. Maer Roshan, creator and executive editor of The Fix, told DailyFinance: "Anonymity doesn't need to be given to people running multimillion dollar companies. They should be scrutinized in some way."

So what do these luxury recovery palaces really cost? A DailyFinance survey laid out some of the numbers:

  • Promises in Malibu. Up to $90,000 a month. No surprise there—this is the 580-thread-count sheeted celebrity hole in the wall of choice for Charlie and Lindsay and Britney and Matthew and so on.
  • The Sanctuary in Byron Bay, Australia. $93,000 a month buys you beachfront bungalows, acupuncture, and possibly a Kate Moss sighting. 
  • Prive Swiss, formerly Beau Monde, in California and Connecticut. $96,000 a month, if your taste runs to a private floor, haute cuisine, and views to die for. Top heavy with captains of industry and former Wall Street masters of the universe, although Courtney did manage to run up an unpaid bill of $180,000 there once.
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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]