LOS ANGELES—Lindsay Lohan is scheduled to be released from a rehab center Monday into another year of uncertainty.
For months, the actress has been haunted by her inability, or unwillingness, to shake a 3 1/2 year old drunken driving case that resulted in two rehab stints and two trips to jail in 2010 alone.
A self-acknowledged addict, Lohan remains under investigation for an alleged attack on a rehab worker at the Betty Ford Center and she could land back in jail for six months if charged with misdemeanor battery or another probation violation.
If Lohan remains out of trouble, a judge could relax the terms of her sentence in late February, ending a cycle of court hearings and jail threats that have loomed consistently since May.
After spending three months in treatment programs at Betty Ford, experts say Lohan has a good shot at recovery. Provided, of course, that she wants it, changes her party girl lifestyle and remains in continued therapy.
If a New Year's Day message posted on her Twitter account is any indication, the "Mean Girls" star seems ready to do that. "Today is the first day of the rest of my life," it said. '"The future depends on what we do in the present.' -Mahatma Gandhi... One step at a time..."
It won't be easy, but she has "a fighting chance," says Jeffrey C. Friedman, a substance abuse counselor at Cottonwood Tucson and a recovering heroin addict who has been sober for 24 years. "It would just be a question, is she going to be willing to continue to make the sacrifices she needs to? For all of us, it's a lifelong process."
Rehab and recovery are different for each individual, said Dr. Westley Clark, an addiction medicine psychiatrist at the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. He noted that substance abuse can "hijack cognitive functioning" and lead people to make irrational decisions. Similar self-destruction actions are sometimes seen in patients battling diseases such as diabetes and obesity, he said.
"Ultimately, someone who has an alcohol or drug problem has to come to grips with the consequences," Clark said, adding that he could not specifically speak about Lohan's condition.
Dealing with the repercussions of her previous actions won't just confront Lohan in criminal court. She also faces a civil trial in which a woman and three young men accused her of wrongdoing for a high-speed chase that ended with Lohan's arrest in Santa Monica in 2007.
Career-wise, any resurgence appears intertwined with her continued recovery.
Gone is her role as porn star Linda Lovelace in a biopic, and no replacement acting gig has been announced. But those connected with her clothing enterprise say Lohan, 24, will leave rehab poised to spearhead a fall fashion line.
The actress' lawyer and other reps did not return messages seeking comment on her post-rehab plans.
Even though Lohan hasn't headlined a major film in more than three years, a career comeback isn't out of the question.
"If they forgave Robert Downey Jr., Lindsay should be in the choir compared to him," said J. Michael Flanagan, a high-profile criminal defense attorney. He said he thought Lohan's case had been blown out of proportion, and that she has made it worse for herself by not showing proper respect in court.
"Hollywood is also a recovery town," Friedman said. "There are a lot of people who are out there who are clean and sober. There are 12-step meetings -- some that are musician-centered, others that are entertainment-centered.
"They don't publicize it, but it's there."
He said ultimately, it's up to Lohan to want to stay sober.
Her surroundings will be key. "I don't think anybody who is new in recovery has any business going to the clubs," he said.
Stars "generally have an entourage that functions as their primary social support system," Friedman said. The problem, he said, is they also rely on the star for their money and fame. "People like this would be less likely to say anything to Lindsay that would upset her."
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"It can't be good for you when people are constantly looking over your shoulder and waiting for you to fail and betting you will fail," said Dr. David Friedman, an addiction specialist and associate dean at Wake Forest University. He said it's one of the issues Betty Ford has likely addressed, since stress is often a trigger for relapse.
"One of the things you learn is how to manage your cravings when they arise," Dr. Friedman said.
Relapse is not uncommon, he and other addiction experts said.
"You have to look at it not as a failure of treatment, but as part of learning to manage the disease," Dr. Friedman said. "The standard course of recovery is multiple relapses."
Lohan's personality, which at times has been defiant, will also come into play.
"You can have the greatest intention in the world," Dr. Friedman said," a club is a bad place to be for somebody who's recovering. She really needs to change much of her lifestyle to deal with this effectively."