3 Addiction Experts Give Insider Info on the Industry’s Marketing Problem

NOTE: Last week, we talked about the Addiction Recovery industry's unethical marketing problem. This week, we'll talk to 3 successful addiction recovery professionals to get a comprehensive understanding of what's going on.

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Hi there,

Dan with Spooky Digital here.

The topic we're about to discuss is probably as personal to you as it is to me.

According to a recent report by the U.S. Surgeon General's office, one in seven in the USA will experience addiction in their lifetime. That makes it hard, if not impossible, to not know someone who's been affected.

Whether you're a treatment professional, loved one of an addiction sufferer, or someone struggling with these issues yourself, there's no doubt that unethical marketing in the treatment industry has touched your life in some way and probably caused some harm to you or someone you care about in the process.

While there are many amazing treatment professionals out there (some of whom you'll hear from in this special report), working hard to provide the treatment that saves live, and bring shattered families back together... there are an equal number of bad actors who seek to take advantage of desperate people to get rich and who think of nothing more than their bottom line.

The recovery industry has been rocked with scandal lately as more and more shady marketing tactics have continued to come to light. The revelations have exposed a variety of activity, ranging from unethical to downright illegal. A number of arrests have been made; shady drug rehabs and detox programs have been shut down; and even Google has been forced to jump in to regulate the type of ads recovery facilities are allowed to run.

In the $35 Billion addiction recovery industry, there's more than just money at stake.

Vulnerable people are fighting for the lives of their loved ones and looking for any helping hand they can find. What they're often finding instead is dead ends, tricks, and insurance scams.

As the CEO of a digital marketing agency specializing in marketing addiction treatment services, the question of how to honestly, ethically and legally help new patients find our clients is always on my mind.

I caught up with well-known recovery experts to get an inside look at this complicated issue, and find out what can be done to solve it once and for all. Enjoy, and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!


Asher Gottesman


Transcend Recovery Community (VIEW ON FACEBOOK)

New York City, NY

Offering: High end sober living environment, sober companions, sober housing.

Dick Dillon

Founder and CEO


Greater St. Louis Area, MO

Offering: Recovery services and coaching.

Adam Bartholomew

Chief Executive Officer​

Reflections Recovery Center (VIEW ON FACEBOOK)

Prescott, AZ

Offering: Men's drug and alcohol treatment center.





DAN: What are the most common forms of unethical marketing in addiction treatment (online and otherwise)?

ASHER: Unfortunately, there is a lot that can be discussed on this topic. 

Offline, body brokering would be one of the worst. This is where unscrupulous people use addicts as means of currency, by offering them to centers in exchange for kick backs. Oftentimes, these brokers will incentive recovering addicts to relapse, just so they can be re-entered into treatment again, so the broker can get another commission.

Along the same line, many such people will ignore the needs of the client and refer them to a kick back facility vs one that would be the ethical, medical, appropriate, etc, decision.

This commoditization of people is disgusting. Also offline, the misleading marketing of lead-generation call centers is another unethical practice. Think of the late night TV ads, "Are you sick and tired of being sick and tired". Many of these companies are simply marketing agencies that buy media time, put together terrible spots to attract callers, then sell the calls to top bidders.

People see the spots and call, thinking they are reaching a treatment center. Rather, they are calling a lead gen firm that is simply rerouting their call to whoever paid the highest or bought that block of calls. Online, these same lead generation/call center companies have claimed the Google business listing accounts of legit treatment centers and replaced the treatment center phone # with their very own.

That starts the whole call rerouting/bidding process again. Beyond these lead generation companies, many treatment centers also exploit Google advertising by placing ads using other company's names and descriptions as their own, just to get their calls.

DAN: How does unethical marketing hurt patients?

ASHER: It hurts patients in a variety of ways. When someone wrestling with addiction is finally ready to make the call for help, how damaging is it for them to then be lead through these labyrinths of call centers and rerouting. They need help now, not after the highest bidder can be found. In the case of the brokers, clients aren't being given the treatment that would be best for them.

They are getting the help that puts $$$ in the broker's pockets. In short, the honesty and vulnerability of someone asking for help is being exploited and that moment of openness can be shattered by these practices, jeopardizing not only the addict's life, but the lives of their loved ones.

DAN: How do you take care to avoid ethical problems when marketing your business?

ASHER: We make sure all employees operate by our core company principles- accountability, spirituality, and community. We also train our staff in what is ethical/unethical and make sure that our employees understand not only what we DO as a company, but also what we will NOT do. By living with clear principles and defining our values, our staff knows the right calls to make.

DAN: What marketing methods are working best for your business?

ASHER: This might sound vague, but it's the honest answer- we focus on telling our story clearly and effectively, whatever medium we choose. What makes us different, how we will care for the client, our expertise, etc, are all things we work hard to communicate. Whether it's online or offline, being honest, expressive, and purposeful has always worked the best.


Founder and CEO Innovaision, LLC


"...there are far more people who need your help in your immediate area than you could possibly serve."

DAN: What are the most common forms of unethical marketing in addiction treatment (online and otherwise)?

DICK: A) Claiming to be able to help match clients with the best appropriate treatment when in reality you are serving as a funnel to one or a limited number of providers who are paying you for leads, and may or may not be a good treatment fit. B) hijacking search results so that someone looking for a name branded program ends up on your site, where you then do (A) above, C) paying people part of a finders fee you receive from a program to entice them to enter that program. D) making false claims results (not based on valid outcome measurement)

DAN: How does unethical marketing hurt patients?

DICK: Let me count the ways. A) connects them with treatment that may not be appropriate for their situation, B) entices them to spend money based on unsubstantiated results, C) adds to mistrust that affect future attempts to get help

DAN: How do you take care to avoid ethical problems when marketing your business?

DICK: Just don't do it. It's not rocket science to figure out that what you are doing is wrong.

DAN: What marketing methods are working best for your business?

DICK:  Relationship marketing. Unless you live on the moon, it is likely that there are far more people who need your help in your immediate area than you could possibly serve.

They are showing up in other peoples offices - clergy, marriage counselors, physicians, emergency rooms, their human resources manager, etc. with all the many life problems which are associated with addiction. Reaching out and educating these other professionals on how to identify addiction-related problems and what to do about them is a much better and far more cost-effective way to connect with the people who need help than casting a wide Internet net to try to find people around the country or the world.

Use your web presence as an information and education tool and not as your primary marketing strategy.

Adam Bartholomew 

Chief Executive Officer Reflections Recovery Center


"It’s disgusting what these fake, false, scammers manipulate google to produce clients."

DAN: I'm working on an article about marketing in the addiction industry and am wondering if you have any comments to add. Google has been cracking down lately on addiction treatment ads, and as more eyes are focused on this issue more regulation is likely to follow.

ADAM: I have used paid ads, but only for a short amount of time. 

It didn’t make sense to try and compete with these facilities that aren’t facilities....places spending millions of dollars a year and/or a month to get clients. I have witnessed these publicly traded rehabs build hundreds of websites and buy virtual offices in every major and minor city to show up on google local.

It’s disgusting what these fake, false, scammers manipulate google to produce clients. While the little rehabs like ourselves do the hardest and most important work with the patients themselves.

How can these publicly traded companies be so unethical and still have any form of gains? We need a federal enforcement action team to wander the country and see what’s really going on.

NEXT WEEK: We'll dive deeper into this issue, and hear from more experts who want to see change in the industry. Have you been affected by this issue in some way? Let me know in the comments below!

LEARN MORE: Learn about addiction treatment marketing and how you can ethically and effectively promote your program.

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Dan Sevigny

Dan Sevigny is an entrepreneur, digital marketing expert, and the CEO of Spooky Digital. Dan's work has been featured in: Entrepreneur, Inc, Forbes, Business Insider, Huffington Post, FOX 5, PIX 11, News 12, among others! Dan is most interested in using entrepreneurship as a way to promote health, happiness and positivity in the world.

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