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Celebrity rehab: see the pain

Will Celebrity Rehab, which premieres tonight at 10 on VH1, become as addictive as crack or any of the other substances that land people in treatment? "I hope so," actress Brigitte Nielsen said.

Will Celebrity Rehab, which premieres tonight at 10 on VH1, become as addictive as crack or any of the other substances that land people in treatment? "I hope so," actress Brigitte Nielsen said.

Sly Stallone's former better half, who has battled the bottle for a decade, knows all about addiction. "I was a lost soul," Nielsen said, calling from her Palm Springs, Calif., home. "I wanted to literally throw myself into Lake Lugano [in Switzerland]. Celebrity Rehab helped save me. I'm so thankful for it."

In raucous group sessions, Nielsen, a model-actress, and eight other D-listers - actors Jeff Conaway and Daniel Baldwin, heavily tattooed rapper Seth Binzer (a.k.a. Shifty Shellshock), American Idol competitor Jessica Sierra, wrestler Chyna Doll, martial artist Ricco Rodriguez and porn stars Mary Carey and Jaimee Foxworth - bare their shaky souls in the Pasadena Recovery Center with Loveline host Dr. Drew Pinsky.

It's certainly no tea party. Watching the debauched Conaway, best known from Taxi and Grease, as he detoxes, for instance, is painful. Conaway's slur is so extreme that subtitles are required. It's a train-wreck experience, much like that video of David Hasselhoff, hammered in his hotel room, that circulated online last year.

The host insists the aim is purely therapeutic. "What I'm trying to do is help people in desperate need," said Pinsky, an addiction specialist, on the phone from Manhattan. "I sincerely want every patient that I treat to get better. But that's not all there is to Celebrity Rehab.

"My hope is to put to rest the common misconception flying around the media that rehab is some sort of vacation celebrities take. It's not a vacation at all. These are people that are fighting to reclaim their lives. I think it was very courageous of them to participate in this show."

But haven't VH1 and Pinsky taken advantage of publicity-hungry former celebs at a juncture when they are most vulnerable - trying to become sober and functional?

"I think it's getting close to crossing that line," Caron Treatment Center's vice president of clinical services, Susan Blank, said from the facility in Wernersville, Pa. "But I don't want to be put in a position to judge this show. I'm not planning to see it. What I can say is that early recovery is difficult and painful."

Pinsky agrees with Blank's conclusion, noting that many patients leave rehab in those rocky first days of treatment. But he contends that Celebrity Rehab offers extra motivation.

"Being on television and getting paid to be on the show certainly helped inspire these people to show up and stay around for treatment," Pinsky said. "This show particularly helped out Seth [Binzer] and Jessica [Sierra], who were both down and out with no money."

It didn't work out so well for Sierra, who was sentenced Monday to a year in rehab after a December altercation at a Tampa, Fla., club. She will spend the next 12 months in familiar environs, the Pasadena Recovery Center. Judge Daniel Perry was less than thrilled with the locale. "I don't want this to be some stepping-stone for her to have a career as a recovering addict," he said during sentencing.

However, Celebrity Rehab did help Binzer, former front man for rap-rockers Crazy Town. "I really needed Celebrity Rehab," Binzer said. The eight-episode reality series was taped last summer. "I was emotionally bankrupt and I ran my piggy bank into the ground due to drugs. I was abusing drugs to the fullest. I was going to die if I didn't do something."

Binzer, shown smoking crack during tonight's debut, is a cocaine junkie.

"I couldn't stop using," he said. "I fell into a really dark place. I bottomed out since drugs meant more to me than anything. My marriage ended because of it. I had to do something. I have a 5-year-old son. But thanks to Dr. Drew I'm getting better."

Binzer is living at a monitored facility in Los Angeles while he works on a comeback album, Dr. Sober and Mr. High. "I'll be here for a year," Binzer said. "I'm getting better."

Pinsky doesn't know yet if there will be a second season of Celebrity Rehab. "We'll just have to see how this program is received," he said. "Let's see how well it does and then we'll deal with that."

Obviously, the show's disappearance wouldn't be for a lack of eligibly damaged stars. "I can't say that I have a wish list of guests that includes Britney Spears or Amy Winehouse," Pinsky said. "But I do wish they would get treatment. I expect them to die of their addictions if they don't receive treatment. I don't think they should be treated as out patients. They both should go away for a while.

"Britney is in deep denial. She has been through three treatment centers, and she just walks out of them. We're talking about young women that are dying. If I could help them I would, just like I helped those who appeared on [my show]. I would like to see everyone get better."

Nine celebrities at a time.