From Teenage Delinquent to Teen Dream

By Nina Emkin 10/14/11
Once a multiple rehab grad who couldn’t stay sober, Jamison Monroe now runs Newport Academy—a rehab for young people suffering from the sorts of problems he understands.
The Monroe Doctrine: Newport Academy and its owner

Jamison Monroe, Jr. is intelligent, athletic, tall, charming, successful, the prototypical Southern gentleman who comes from a well-heeled Houston family and attended the University of Texas at Austin. He’s also a bona fide alcoholic.

The beginning of the end for Monroe was, arguably, when he was in eighth grade and pretended to have ADHD just to get his hands on some Adderall. Or maybe it was the last day of his sophomore year at his fancy Houston prep school, when he and a buddy got drunk on Tall Boys and tried to steal a copy of their English final—resulting in their expulsion. Or it could have been during his senior year, when he kept a keg of beer in the trunk of his SUV. Then again, perhaps it was during his first year at UT, when he passed out after taking a combination of cocaine, Goldschlager, and Jägermeister, fell face-forward, and was taken the hospital, but wouldn’t let the nurses test his blood because he didn’t want them to take out the “gold” he was sure was floating in it. Or later that night, after he fled the hospital, when a policeman confronted him and he got his first DWI. Or was it the five treatment centers he went to over the course of the next few years, or the four subsequent arrests? It’s hard to say exactly when Monroe crossed the invisible line that separates problem drinkers from alcoholics, but it’s clear that he not only crossed it: he sprinted straight past.

 “A lot of these places over-promise and under-deliver. I had been a victim of cookie-cutter programs a number of times."

More than six years after his last drink, though, Monroe is happy, healthy, newly married and the owner of Newport Academy, a thriving treatment center for teenagers which launched in Orange County in May of 2009. The transition from graduate of multiple rehabs to well-respected owner of one wasn’t necessarily simple but it was, in many ways, seemingly pre-destined.

Monroe, whose previous professional incarnations included taco shack employee, real estate agent, and valet parker, found himself impassioned by his newfound sobriety after going to treatment in Malibu. “I spent 30 days there and had the best therapist I’ve ever had in my life. He helped me peel back the layers and find the real me, and then love that real me,” he says. “I had a lot of attention paid to me, which I needed at the time.” After moving into a sober living house in Orange County, he decided to make recovery his career. “I got a job at a local treatment center with a few months of sobriety,” he recalls. “At six months sober, I was the afternoon and evening manager and running the meds cart of a 150-bed facility. It was a crash course in the behind-the-scenes of a treatment center.” Jamison stayed in Orange County after completing sober living; he got an apartment two blocks from his newfound home group, found a sponsor, and settled into his new life. All the while, the plans for Newport Academy were coalescing.  

In early 2008, Monroe was finally able to start working on his dream in earnest. After raising seed money from family and friends, he bought six acres of land and two properties, hired his staff, and got licensed. On May 1, 2009, Newport Academy officially opened for business.

Southern California is already overflowing with treatment centers, though—from the uber-luxe resorts in Malibu to grittier, no-frills programs in rougher parts of the city. So why did Monroe decide to jump into a saturated market?  

“I wanted to start a treatment center because I had been to treatment centers that said they were really good,” he explains. “A lot of these places over-promise and under-deliver. I had been a victim of cookie-cutter programs a number of times, as had my family and friends. The model for those programs was created in the 50s and 60s, and it didn’t evolve with the times. The more old-school model is group and 12 step-focused, sitting in co-ed groups all day and reading the Big Book, when in reality kids and their families have much more complicated issues that need to be identified and addressed by a clinician. We mix a heavy dose of clinical and medical expertise with the 12 steps. I wanted to create a place where each kid and family could be treated based on their individual needs.”  

Personalized treatment is one of Monroe’s biggest priorities. “You have kids coming in that have severe trauma and anxiety and ADHD and an Oxy addiction, and then you have a girl that has a primary diagnosis of alcoholism with a secondary eating disorder, and they’re getting the same program with the same counselor,” he laments. “It’s ridiculous. If you look at cancer treatment, its evolution has gone from a generalized treatment plan to treatment as specifically targeted as possible. I wanted to apply that evolution to Newport Academy.”

Newport Academy, which houses 12 kids at a time, is actually two separate campuses, one for boys and one for girls—about a mile apart from each other in a hilly residential area in Orange. The girls’ house is an elegant Spanish home with a stunning courtyard and a stable for the three therapy horses, and the boys’ house is a modern glass-and-wood affair with an expansive gym and a view all the way to Catalina. The usual length of treatment is between 45 and 90 days and the cost is $30,000 a month.

But you get what you pay for. The staff-to-client ratio is a staggering 4 to 1, and treatment plans include equine therapy, academic work both in-house and at the off-site, accredited Newport Academy day school (which Monroe also owns), nutrition and cooking classes, and weekly family therapy sessions. Most important, though, is that Newport Academy gets results: a whopping 63 percent of its graduates are still sober after two years. And Monroe keeps track—he has an alumni coordinator on staff just to track his clients’ progress and offer help and advice if needed.

But Monroe’s mission isn’t complete yet: addiction and recovery advocacy is his next challenge. “A dollar spent on treatment saves seven dollars,” he says, which means that investing in the treatment of alcoholism and addiction is significantly cheaper than cleaning up the messes that result from untreated addiction—crime costs, medical costs, and property damage. He adds, “A dollar spent on prevention saves 18. We need to do something about getting our government and more insurance companies to pay for treatment.” Monroe, who regularly appears on CNN as an addiction expert, says that he’s “really amped up about breaking the stigma of addiction.” He looks to the LGBT community, the cancer community, and the AIDS community as inspiration for awareness building.  

Now 30, Monroe lives in LA with his wife, an author-musician-life coach that he started dating after running into her at three different rock concerts over the course of six months. His main plan for the future is to help change the image of recovery. “If I had enough money,” he says, “I’d hire Ogilvy & Mather to rebrand sobriety. The more people are talking about it, the better.”

Nina Emkin holds degrees from UCLA and Sarah Lawrence and has written for The Fix about relapse andcoming out as an alcoholic, among other topics. She lives in Los Angeles.

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