negative advertisingNegative advertising by alcohol or drug rehabs is completely unprofessional. The few rehabs that engage in this behavior describe themselves as non-12-step programs. They can be passed over as choices because there plenty of other non-12-step programs that don’t use negative advertising.

In fact, about one-fourth of all rehabs in the United States are non-12-step. Very few non-12-step programs engage in negative advertising. To view a partial list of non-12-step rehabs and programs, visit Finding Non-12-Step Rehabs, Programs or Other Help.

Aaron Larson said the claim that makes him immediately skeptical of a program is when it presents as a front and center part of its marketing, “We’re not a 12-step program.” He says the primary purpose of the marketing hook, “We’re not a 12-step program”, is to reach two groups. One is people who are alienated by the 12 steps. The other is people who find the 12 steps difficult or intimidating.

It’s important to realize that “a statement along the lines of, ‘Conventional treatment and 12-step methods of recovery don’t work,’ is being no more true to the facts than somebody who claims ‘Conventional treatment and 12-step methods of recovery always work.’”1 Of course it’s highly appropriate to indicate that a rehab is non-12-step. But when a program makes this a major part of its sales pitch and attacks A.A. or other 12 step programs, that’s a very big red flag.

Passages Malibu Addiction Cure Center: Negative Advertising?

Mark Groubert wrote an investigative, in-depth article about Passages Malibu Addiction Cure Center. It heavily promotes itself as a non-12-step program. Owner Chris Prentiss “maintains a one-sided propaganda war with Alcoholics Anonymous. He fuels this by espousing numerous dubious claims against the organization.”2 Indeed, some are clearly false claims about A.A. But A.A. doesn’t respond because the fellowship never engages in controversy.

After it opened, Passages Malibu actually held A.A. meetings. This fact was revealed by several people who attended in the early days. According to Billy, a graduate of the program, ”‘When I was there, we did six or seven [A.A.] meetings a week. Two or three in-house and the rest out,‘ he says. ‘And they were mandatory. When Chris wrote his book [The Alcoholism and Addiction Cure], that ended. That’s when he decided A.A. was the villain, because he decided he could make a fortune if he just claimed he had found the cure for alcoholism.’”3

Passages Malibu was reportedly having difficulty attracting enough customers to fill its beds. Then it asserted that it could cure alcoholism and began bashing A.A. Former client Stuart observes that “the minute he changed the message, they filled to the brim. He created a cash machine.”4

Dr. Hamlin Emory, former medical director of Passages Malibu, says “I will tell you one thing about Chris Prentiss, he is the consummate Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circus-barker showman.” Dr. Jason Giles, who followed Dr. Emory as medical director of Passages, says “The interesting part, I think, is how people are vulnerable to charlatans.”5 Business executive Stuart asserts “‘Chris has a brilliant scheme that they have cooked up there. He has the perfect sales pitch.’ His voice suddenly drops. ‘I know. I fell into it. It’s a beautiful sales pitch when someone is at the end of their rope.’”6

St. Jude Retreats: Negative Advertising?

Another writer reports that “one of the facilities I have long been aware of that uses deceptive and defamatory methods as a means to sell its program is St Jude Retreats.” He explains that he’s “had concerns over the years about how they market their business. They are one of the worst for negative advertising, denouncing addiction as a disease, denouncing 12 step principles, fully attacking treatment. They are like negative political campaigns on steroids – their marketing scheme of choice – which I think says a lot about them.”7

It’s his belief that “addicts who are avoiding doing the work it takes to get sober (and their embattled families), are sometimes buying St Jude’s negativity. To the tune of 5M a year, according to their 2010 tax return. To put it another way, most of us are pretty pissed off when we come into recovery – St Jude Retreats exploits that state to close their beds with marketing that mimics the oppositional behavior of an untreated addict, essentially deceiving them.”8

Passages Malibu originally used A.A. Similarly, what is now called the St.Jude program originally included meetings of what participants called “Old Fashioned Alcoholics Anonymous.”9 However, as with Passages Malibu, St. Jude and its parent company, the Baldwin Research Institute, turned against A.A. and has devoted much material to bashing the organization. They actually sued Alcoholics Anonymous World Services for twenty million dollars in a case that they lost.10

One “graduate” asserted that “the greatest injustice of all is St. Jude/BRI’s CONSTANT slandering of A.A.” That’s dishonest, he says, because

“Basically, the St. Jude program is identical to the 12-steps, and its crux (and a ‘guests’ likelihood of success) rests on willingness to ‘serve others’. In A.A. that means make coffee, give away cigs, and **** vulnerable women. At St. Jude it means do dishes, hide candy under your roommate’s pillow, and **** vulnerable women. Essentially, instructors act as sponsors who aid in a ‘guest’s’ acceptance, surrender (formal surrender prayer said with a sponsor, shit, I mean instructor), a detailing of misdeeds and character flaws, a drafting of an ammends (sic) list, and on and on. The only difference? St. Jude insists meetings are unnecessary, it’s all about choice, and that after completing the ‘workbook’ you’re cured for life!! I just can’t believe how much effort they put into distancing themselves from A.A. whilst simultaneously being A.A.”11

He makes the observation that “St. Jude needs A.A. to exist so they can sell their services based around NOT being A.A.”12 St. Jude Retreats “is an unlicensed center masquerading initially as an alcohol and drug rehab to draw clientele. And all of this is unnecessary. If they have a good program, they could just as easily (and lucratively) market it without the deception, distortion, and negativity.”13

Both Passages Malibu and the St. Jude Retreats stress positive messaging in their programs. This makes it ironic that both use what has been called negative advertising.

See Also

Sources for Negative Advertising

1 Larson, A. Don’t Trust Addiction Treatment Claims About Success Rates or Not Being a 12-Step Program.

2 Groubert, M. Addiction: Buying the Cure at Passages Malibu.

3 Groubert, ibid.

4 Groubert, ibid

5 Groubert, ibid.

6  Larson, ibid.

7 Sober Octane. St. Jude Retreats.   

8 Sober Octane. ibid.

9 Baldwin Research Institute, Inc. and Gerald Brown, Plaintiffs, against Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc. Defendant.

10 In a letter to the State of New York Office of the Attorney General, Baldwin Research Institute stated that it had “ initiated a $20,000,000 lawsuit against Alcoholics Anonymous World Services, Inc.”

11 Larson, ibid.

12 Larson, ibid.

13 Sober Octane. ibid.

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