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Understanding Addiction

Actor Robert Downey, Jr.'s latest bout with drugs has many people shaking their heads. Critics wonder how Downey could throw away a chance at a fresh start and a clean life.

The new "Ally McBeal" star was arrested over the Thanksgiving weekend, after an anonymous caller reported that he was holed up in a Palm Springs hotel room with a stash of drugs. He was later released on $15,000 bail and is scheduled to appear in court on December 27. Downey's arrest is another chapter in his long history of drug abuse. Last August, he was released on a technicality after serving one year in jail for prior drug charges.

John Schwarzlose, president and CEO of the Betty Ford Center, says there's more to Downey's addiction than people might think. "It's not about him," he says. "It's about this disease."

Instead of looking at the scientific basis for the disease, people just judge addictions, explains Schwarzlose, who notes that celebrities who are successful in beating their addictions don't often make the news. "It's the Darryl Strawberrys and Robert Downeys who keep falling and catching the headlines."

Schwarzlose says rehabilitation doesn't always work because all types of treatment are not equal. People often think of addiction as they do cancer or gall bladder surgery, where the surgery is successful or it isn't. "No one's comparing addictions to chronic diseases like asthma and diabetes where it's a life long process of treatment and it really does require a lifetime commitment," he says.

Some people are able to control their addictions better than others reportedly because of their level of commitment. Addicts at the Betty Ford Center offer learn that nothing that is done there in a 30-day treatment will keep anyone off drugs when they leave the center. The issue, says Schwarzlose, is what people are going to do with what they learn in therapy.

Celebrities may have a particularly difficult time adhering to therapy because they get a lot of breaks from people around them, who make money because of their stardom.

Airline pilots, on the other hand, receive 100% support from their employers when they're first sent to addiction treatment. But after that, if the pilot agrees to sign an agreement that if he ever relapses, his career is over.

"If the studios said to Robert Downey Jr., we're going to send you to treatment but you're gonna sign an agreement that if you ever touch drugs, you'll never work again, I guarantee it would make a difference," says Schwarzlose. "But they won't do that."

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