As a 17-year-old heartbreaker on MTV’s high school reality hit Laguna Beach—and Lauren Conrad‘s boyfriend on its spinoff The Hills—Jason Wahler found instant fame. But infamy soon followed: Between last fall and this spring, Wahler, now 20, was arrested four times on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to assault—all following drinking binges. After 56 days in what he calls “serious rehab,” Wahler talked about his struggle with alcoholism.
A week after graduation, I moved up to Los Angeles with [Laguna Beach pals] Stephen Colletti and Dieter Schmitz. Right away we said, “Let’s go out to a club!” When we walked up, girls started flipping out at the door because we were on the show, and the promoters were like, “We’ll take care of you, throw you in a booth, get you all the booze you want….” I had just turned 18. We had fake IDs, but we didn’t even need to show them. Anyone who’s big in Hollywood who’s underage gets in. Then as soon as the show was a hit, I started getting paid to make club appearances: $5,000 for two hours. I actually had a tour manager and did 30 different states in a year. I realized I wouldn’t have to work. I could travel once or twice a month, and I’d be set. So every day was a Saturday for me. And it’s the same for a lot of young Hollywood. Going to clubs? It’s 100-percent boredom. You’re sitting around the house and you have nothing else to do.
An occasional social drinker in high school, Wahler now found himself drinking three or four nights a week.
I didn’t have a clue that I might have a problem, to be honest. I’d go see my buddies in college, and they were more obliterated than I was—and they were straight-A students. I thought, “This is normal.” Until I started becoming someone I’m truly not. I did try drugs, but it was never my thing. It was alcohol, for sure. It would take me about 10 drinks before that other side came out. It’s like Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde. The first time I got violent was a couple of years ago at my house. An acquaintance wouldn’t leave, so I bopped him in the face. It was totally out of character. I don’t like fighting—at all.
But the fighting continued and eventually got him arrested. A scuffle with an L.A. tow-truck driver in September 2006 led to a conviction on misdemeanor battery charges. And after allegedly punching a Seattle hotel security guard in the face on April 8, he was charged with criminal trespassing and assault.
I’m embarrassed as hell, but I really do not remember my arrests. They’re blackouts. And that’s scary. In Seattle [where Wahler was accused of spewing homophobic and racial epithets at his arresting officer], the guy I allegedly called that wasn’t even black. I’m not at all racist or homophobic. I was just completely obliterated. My parents were devastated. They kept pushing for me to get help, but I still didn’t think I had a drinking problem—until I went home. When I was away from L.A., sober, not surrounded with random people, I finally realized, “I’m killing myself.”
His 60-day jail sentence for the L.A. battery conviction was suspended when he decided to check into a rehab facility.
If the charges weren’t there, I still would have gone to rehab—100 percent. I was planning to go to Promises [the Malibu facility where Lindsay Lohan has been in treatment], but I remembered visiting a friend there a year and a half ago: “I’m getting a massage later today. I’m at the pool.” It was a joke to me. [A rep for Promises says, ‘We are a serious 12-step program’].
On April 12 Wahler checked into Chapman House, a no-frills inpatient facility not far from his home in Orange County. His parents, Rick, a contractor, and Denese, a stay-at-home mom, were by his side.
It’s really weird going in and having people recognize you. But overall I felt really comfortable. Like I was in a safe haven where I couldn’t get into trouble. Monday through Friday there are group meetings at 8, noon and 6. Then an individual meeting scheduled with a therapist and an outside meeting, like an AA. It’s exhausting, but after I started getting back to my senses, it was cool to get up in the morning and not be all hurting.
There’s no real history of alcoholism in my family. I didn’t have a bad childhood. [My drinking] had nothing to do with that, like a lot of people. I got caught up in the scene. It was too fun at 18, 19 years old, being able to drink and do whatever you want. I didn’t realize how much damage I was doing to myself. I was destroying my family, and it ruined my and Lauren’s relationship. I have a new girlfriend who was really supportive while I was in rehab. My family has given me a lot of support. And Lauren even came down to visit me my second-to-last day.
On June 8 Wahler checked out of rehab resolved to stay sober.
I’m going back and forth between my parents’ house and my place in L.A. I’m up early doing group meetings and therapy. I’m also speaking to high schools, telling my story. That’s a big part of the process for me. It’s an everyday struggle. You won’t see me at a club for at least a year. The temptation is too strong. Plus, a lot of the friends I had on the scene weren’t really my close friends. I went through my phone and deleted 75 percent of the numbers. If you don’t lose your old habits, it’s going to come back to bite you. It’s hard, trust me. I’m not even of legal age to drink. I relate to Lindsay [Lohan] because she’s the same age as I am. I’m only 20. And to say that I can’t drink ever again—even on my 21st birthday—is hard. But I don’t care, as long as I’m healthy and happy.