Rich Mom Addicts Get Sobriety Coaches; Poor Moms Get Jail

By Lynn Stuart Parramore 08/01/14

In America, addiction is judged through the lens of class.


Sobriety coaches rake in big bucks to keep one percenters off their substance of choice. A-listers are so busy, after all, and treatment centers are both time-consuming and detrimental to privacy. Even when the wealthy do benefit from these centers, their newfound sobriety often doesn’t outlast the first weekend home alone.

Enter one of the most lucrative jobs in the therapy business.

If you’re a celebrity like Lindsay Lohan, a trust-fund baby, or perhaps a Wall Streeter with a problem, your sobriety coach will accompany you to social events, sometimes posing as a yoga teacher or life coach, to keep you from popping a pill or snorting a line. She will pry the drink out of your fingers at weddings and polo matches. She will even move into your house to keep you from falling off the wagon.

A recent report in the New York Times, “Mothers Find a Helping Hand in Sobriety Coaches,” profiled wealthy Manhattan moms addicted to prescription painkillers and cocaine who finally got clean with the help of a paid personal sobriety trainer.

Citing the difficulties of being an urban mom striving to be thin, rich and successful, the Times story applauds these well-heeled women who have kicked the habit with the aid of a high-priced babysitter. Unlike the Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, who comes for free, a $1,000-a-day pricetag for a coach is not unusual. Terms like the “new Pilates instructor” or the “new fashion statement” are often used to describe these gold-plated companions. The company Sober Champion offers to “stay with you 24/7, helping protect your investment in yourself. Just like a full-time guardian angel.”

The report features the tale of Tamara Mellon, founder of Jimmy Choos and mother of a toddler, who battled a serious coke habit unsuccessfully until she found recovery coach Martin Freeman, whom she keeps on retainer in case she needs to be talked out of a late-night craving.

The Times cheers these women for finding their guardian angels and kicking the habit. But what happens to moms with addictions in less affluent circumstances?

In Tennessee, 26-year-old Mallory Loyola, a meth addict, recently became the first person arrested under a new state law that classifies taking illegal drugs while pregnant as an assault. Instead of recovering from childbirth and receiving proper medical care, Loyola was hauled off to jail, where she was later released on bond.

If her baby had died, Loyola could have been charged with homicide under the law. 

Tennessee is not the only place where this madness is happening. Over-zealous Alabama prosecutors are also slapping drug-addicted mothers with criminal charges. If you were a pregnant mom with a drug problem, would you want to go to the doctor to care for yourself and your pregnancy if you feared criminal charges? I’m guessing no, so both you and your fetus will not receive proper care.

If you’re a rich mom, addiction is a health issue. If you’re poor, rural, or a person of color, addiction is a crime. Women at the lower rungs of the economic ladder can have their children taken away if they are found to be using drugs or are charged with child endangerment. They are branded as bad people who do not deserve our sympathy. The social stigma and fear of losing custody of their children will keep many of these women from getting the help they need. Many will wind up in prison, with their families ripped apart and their chances of getting a job, education, or decent housing destroyed.

Does Tamara Mellon of Jimmy Choo fame fear a visit from social services or cops after announcing that she is the coke-addicted mother of a toddler? Very doubtful. And she certainly doesn't have to worry about prison.

The number of women incarcerated in the U.S. has skyrocketed by over 800 percent over the last three decades, and two-thirds of them are locked up for nonviolent offenses, many of which are drug-related. The correctional system was never set up for substance abuse treatment. Many addicted women can still get access to drugs while incarcerated, and medical care is often notoriously bad. No sobriety coaches to be found.

This is just another example of America, the land of inequality, where a two-tiered justice system and wildly divergent social standards create a situation in which the same behavior will earn you either draconian punishment or gentle pampering, depending on the size of your bank account.

This article previously appeared on Alternet.

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Lynn Stuart Parramore is a writer and cultural theorist. You can find some exemples of her work on Alternet. You can also find Lynn on Linkedin or follow her on Twitter.