Alicia Douvall: Addicted to cosmetic surgery

She's obsessed with plastic surgery and has undergone more than 100 operations - Alicia Douvall has an addiction but can a controversial rehab clinic cure her? Guy Adams reports

Pumped so full of silicone that, if chucked into the nearby swimming pool, she might bob to the surface, Alicia Douvall purses her trouty lips, takes a deep breath, and begins explaining why she's just checked into an exclusive Malibu rehab clinic. The pneumatic glamour model, a famous purveyor of "kiss-and-tell" stories, is suffering from a potentially-deadly addiction. It has ravaged her body, alienated friends and family, and cost every penny of the fortune she accumulated telling red-tops about the peccadilloes of former boyfriends such as Mickey Rourke, Calum Best and Mick Hucknall. "Imagine playing Russian roulette with your life," she says. "That's what I'm doing. It's out of control, and has cost me more than £1m. Before I decided to come to Malibu, I'd accepted that I was going to carry on with it until I was either bankrupt or dead."

Douvall isn't dependent on cocaine, alcohol, painkillers, or any of the other substances that traditionally lead to a celebrity's downfall. Instead, she suffers an unlikely obsession: she is addicted to cosmetic surgery. "I've had so many operations that I can't feel my stomach, my left breast, or anything under my right arm," says Douvall, who first went under the knife as a teenager. Now aged 29, she has clocked up more cosmetic procedures than she can count, saying only that the exact figure is more than a hundred.



"I've had 15 boob jobs. I've changed my eyes and nose, had facelifts. My philosophy is 'if it can be changed, it will be'. It's got to the stage where doctors in Britain refuse to treat me any more, so I've been flying to the US for surgery and lying about my medical history."



Douvall's addiction is related to a psychiatric problem called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), which she was diagnosed with several years ago. It is a condition on the obsessive compulsive disorder spectrum which causes victims to become preoccupied with their physical appearance, fretting over small or non-existent defects.



A cynic might say that in the old days BDD was known as vanity. But actually, it's the reverse: sufferers believe they are hideous, rather than attractive. They avoid mirrors, and spend hours each day worrying about being ugly. In extreme cases, they become deeply depressed, and reclusive. The suicide rate for victims in the US is 45 times the national average.



Douvall is a textbook case. Though outwardly attractive (she is, after all, a professional model) and intelligent, her adult life has been consumed by concerns that she is unspeakably hideous. She takes anti-depressants and sleeping pills, and has repeatedly submitted herself to the cosmetic surgeon's knife. "I'm on a quest for change," she says. "Every two weeks, I'll go see another doctor. Often I'll walk in, not even knowing what I want doing, and say something like 'what do you think might be wrong?' or 'what do you think of my eyes?' I keep hoping I might wake up one day feeling happy with myself."



Douvall recently discovered that submitting herself to the medical version of cut-and-pasting isn't the only way to deal with BDD. She was speaking at the exclusive Passages Addiction Centre in Malibu, near Los Angeles, where she spent four weeks being treated and filmed for a reality TV show, called Rehab. This sometimes compelling, if slightly tasteless series, which begins this week on the satellite channel Living, follows seven "fallen celebrities" who have agreed to undergo intensive courses of therapy in an attempt to find a potential cure for addictions that have ruined both their lives and careers.



It will show former Bay City Roller Les McKeown, Happy Mondays backing singer Rowetta, and Robin Le Mesurier, the musician son of actor John and Hattie Jacques, attempting to cure alcoholism. Model Cassie Sumner is treated for bulimia, Victoria Sellers attempts to kick drugs, and Karate Kid star Sean Kanan tries to wean himself off prescription painkillers. Tacky though it sounds, it also provides a priceless insight into the rehab industry. Passages, on a hillside overlooking the Pacific ocean, is one of the world's most exclusive clinics. It resembles a boutique luxury hotel, and charges well-heeled clients, who have included the fashion designer Marc Jacobs, an eye-watering $78,000 a month for their pains.



Unlike almost every clinic, Passages does not treat patients with a version of the traditional "12-step programme". Instead, its founder, Chris Prentiss, has pioneered a regime that rejects the notion that alcoholism and drug addictions are incurable diseases, and instead views them as symptoms of deeper psychological problems. Prentiss, who founded the clinic after helping wean his son Pax off heroin and alcohol, believes that most addictions stem from a person's failure to come to terms with a traumatic past event. Through intensive therapy sessions, his team work to identify this event, before forcing patients to look at it in a positive light – trying to convince them that, as Voltaire said, everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.



"If someone has been abused as a child, or says 'I was raped when I was six', we help them reframe it, by showing them that it was actually a perfect event in their lives, because it made them who they are," says Prentiss. "We show them, for example, that wisdom and strength and information didn't come from their ho-hum days, it came from these power points."



Prentiss claims, perhaps in a bid to justify his exorbitant fees, to have an 85 per cent success rate at "curing" addiction. This is three times higher than rival clinics such as the Betty Ford Centre, but has been widely questioned. Some critics have dubbed him a snake-oil salesman. Yet Douvall's experience frames him in at least a moderately positive light. The model, who was born plain Sarah House, and had a comfortable upbringing in Sussex, was originally sceptical about her chances of being treated, and planned to celebrate her release from the clinic by having a "toe facelift" – an highly-complex operation to straighten her feet.



"You couldn't have got a bigger cynic than me," she says. "I didn't believe in counselling or rehab, or in a person being able to change." But after intensive therapy sessions at Passages, many of them filmed, Douvall reveals the cause of her BDD: she was abused as a child (details are not broadcast, apparently for legal reasons) and was also assaulted by an ex boyfriend, destroying her self confidence. She became a teenage mother – her daughter is now 13 – effectively cutting short her adolescence.



During the treatment, Douvall says she was reduced to tears three or four times a day by the the acupuncturists, hypnotherapists and assorted counsellors. After the cameras stopped rolling, she stayed at Passages for an additional fortnight to continue treatment. Today, though she doesn't claim to be "cured" of her cosmetic surgery addiction, Douvall's condition has at least improved. Shortly before leaving Passages, she cancelled her planned "toe facelift".



"It was one of the toughest things I ever had to do," she says. "They break you down to build you up, and keep chipping away until they find a crack. But they do it because it helps, and I now think everyone should go into rehab at least once in their lives. After all, who can say they're perfect?"





'Rehab' is on tomorrow at 9pm on Living



Drastic plastic: Body dysmorphic disorder



* Plastic surgery addiction usually arises from "imagined ugly syndrome", also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).



* According to Adam Searle,former president of the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), sufferers may "express distorted ideas about their body".



* Repetitive behaviour such as excessive grooming and obsessive checking of appearance in reflective surfaces are also symptoms.



* Sufferers may seek plastic surgery to correct their imagined defects. Often, once one perceived problem with their face or body has been "fixed", they will develop a new fixation.



* It is not known how many people suffer from BDD, but the best estimates suggest the figure could be about 1 per cent of the population.



* According to a survey last year, 33 per cent of plastic surgeons said the number one reason for turning potential patients away was owing to their unrealistic expectations and the belief that surgical procedure would "solve all their problems".



* Thirty per cent of surgeons also turned away patients wanting unnecessary surgery, including facelifts in their thirties.



* Five per cent of BAAPS surgeons said patients who were "obsessed with celebrity looks" was also one of the most common reasons for refusing treatment. www.baaps.org.uk Amy Oliver

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
News
news

Sport
footballThe latest scores and Twitter updates from tonight’s games, featuring Bayern Munich vs Man City and Chelsea vs Schalke
News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Arts and Entertainment
Toby Jones (left) and Mackenzie Crook in BBC4’s new comedy The Detectorists
tvMackenzie Crook's 'Detectorists' makes the hobby look 'dysfunctional', they say
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
Extras
10 best table lamps
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    IT Project Manager (technical, applications, infrastructure)

    £55000 - £60000 Per Annum + benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: IT Proj...

    English Teacher (Bristol and South Gloucestershire)

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Bristol: English teachers for day to day cover,...

    Teacher

    Negotiable: Randstad Education Sheffield: Year 6 Teacher RequiredThis teaching...

    SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's Stortford / Stansted

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SharePoint Administrator - Bishop's ...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week