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'Celebrity Rehab' and other TV addiction shows walk the line between treatment and performance

January 1, 2011 |  1:30 pm

Rehab What happens when you put addicted, attention-seeking actors and reality TV stars in front of cameras and tell them you're going to film their rehab?

"We all knew we were on TV," said Jeff Conaway, who appeared in the first two seasons of VH1's "Celebrity Rehab."

"I think everybody, like myself, made choices. Sometimes we would go a little bit further than maybe we normally would. You can't help it. There are cameras sitting in front of your face, and we're paid to be dramatic. That's what we do."

Some professionals in the rehab field worry that programs about addiction — a genre that also includes the HBO series "Addiction" and A&E's popular "Intervention," now in its 10th season — are exploiting patients in their most vulnerable moments.

In this season's first episode of "Celebrity Rehab," former supermodel Janice Dickinson, who had been weaned off of benzodiazepines, revealed to a hospital staff member she was contemplating going to the bathroom to hang herself. The moment was teased endlessly in previews leading to the premiere.

It's exactly the kind of moment that Dr. David Sack, the chief executive of Malibu's Promises Treatment Center, worries will later haunt them. "It becomes a performance — not treatment."

Read the Sunday Calendar feature about "Celebrity Rehab" and "Intervention" here.

Photo: Rachel Uchitel and Leif Garrett in "Celebrity Rehab." Credit: Kevin Winter/VH1.