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July 24 should have marked a new start for Lindsay Lohan. Eleven days after finishing a 46-day stint at Promises rehab clinic, the actress was sporting an electronic anklet as proof of a new sober life—and it seemed she might have straightened out. On her schedule: a taping of a Tonight Show segment to promote her new movie, I Know Who Killed Me, and an afternoon tango lesson to prepare for her next role in the romance Dare to Love Me. But she never made it to either appointment. Around 1:30 that morning, Lohan took the wheel of a white SUV in pursuit of a vehicle driven by Michelle Peck, the mother of Tarin Graham, one of her assistants—and seemingly crashed all hopes of a comeback. Responding to a call from Peck, claiming that someone—a someone who turned out to be Lohan—was chasing her through the streets of Santa Monica, Calif., local police later arrested Lohan for DUI (her blood alcohol level was .13; the legal limit is .08), driving with a suspended license and—after finding a small amount of the drug in her pocket during a search—cocaine possession. After posting $25,000 bail, Lohan was released. During the ordeal, says one cop, "she was crying and upset."

Later that day, Lohan was defending herself in an e-mail to Access Hollywood's Billy Bush. "I am innocent," she wrote. "Did not do drugs they're not mine ... I was almost hit by my assistant Tarin's mom. I appreciate everyone giving me my privacy." Still, in the wake of her latest meltdown, those closest to Lohan, who turned 21 on July 2, are grappling with a basic rule of recovery: Getting sober comes one painful day at a time. "I thought everything was fine. Obviously everything wasn't," says a close friend, who spoke to her on July 23. "As a [substance abuser] maybe you hide things from the ones you love." Lohan's mother and former party pal, Dina, 44, told TV's The Insider, "We are doing everything in our power in support of Lindsay." Her father, Michael, 47, himself a recovering addict, said to PEOPLE, "I am heartbroken. It's tearing me apart."

While the L.A. District Attorney has yet to file charges for a previous DUI arrest in May, Lohan's new arrest seems likely to lead to a jail sentence (see box). And her once meteoric career has come to a standstill. "She's created serious problems for herself," says an industry source. "Producers don't want to take on such a risk." Right now there are more pressing issues. "Addiction is a terrible and vicious disease," said Lohan lawyer Blair Berk in a July 24 statement. For now, she added, "she is safe, she is out of custody, and receiving medical care."

Lohan is, in fact, already a rehab veteran; seven months before her stay at Promises, she spent time at L.A.'s Wonderland treatment center and publicly spoke of attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. "It's not uncommon for the newly sober to slip," says Beverly Hills addiction specialist Marty Brenner. "It's part of the disease." Before she went into Promises, a source close to Lohan told PEOPLE that her best chance for sobriety was to "really follow the directions of her sponsors and counselors." Those directions vary from person to person and center to center, but the bottom line is always the same. "If you want sobriety, you have to change everything," says Brenner. "You have to change your friends, your crowd, your lifestyle."

Those seem to be changes Lohan was unable to make. Even before she officially ended her treatment program, says a source, Lohan was surrounded by hangers-on who had no interest in the party being over: "If she went away and got [sober], they wouldn't have their late-night clubs, the bottle service, the parties." Some of those enablers, in fact, crashed Lohan's 21st-birthday party in Malibu on July 2. "She's naive and doesn't realize how these friends use her," says a close source who was at the party. A person who knows her well says that Lohan used to regularly ask friends to "pour mixed drinks in her water bottle" so that no one would know she was drinking. Another friend describes her as a lonely young woman who craves companionship so desperately that "she refuses to sleep alone. She'll make her friends stay the night."

Lohan relied increasingly on nightlife denizens like British party boy Calum Best, DJ Samantha Ronson and young female assistants, who serve as hired sorority sisters. A day after ending her program at Promises, she made it clear that she wasn't giving up such friendships, or taking herself off the club scene; she headed to Pure nightclub in Las Vegas with a new pal, socialite Dori Cooperman; assistant Jenni Muro; and lawyer Mike Heller. (He had negotiated a lucrative deal for her to celebrate her 21st birthday at Pure, but the party was canceled when she went to rehab.) Lohan danced and sipped water and Red Bull until 4:30 a.m. "There was no alcohol," says a source. Still, upon returning to L.A., Lohan made a quick reentry into the nightlife scene, showing up over the week leading up to her arrest at favorite haunts including Les Deux, where she hung with Ronson; Malibu's Polaroid Beach House; and LAX. "No one cared about Lindsay," the source who was at her birthday party angrily notes. "It was 'How soon should we get her in there to get press?' True friends don't do that."

Lohan also began removing her electronic anklet on occasion (see box), but ironically she was wearing it on the night of her DUI arrest. Dining with pals on the afternoon of July 23 at Coupa Cafe in Beverly Hills, Lohan "seemed really relaxed," says server Justin Carrasco. But the mood changed later that night when Lohan arrived at a pal's gathering. There, at least one person protested Lohan's partying—her assistant Tarin Graham. The two allegedly argued, and Graham declared she was quitting. Graham then apparently called her mother to pick her up, and Lohan gave chase.

What happened next may finally help Lohan turn a corner. "Forever people were talking about her wild and crazy ways, but she was still booking projects and making movies," says a friend. With her life in ruins, "she's getting scared." Others worry it may be too late. Lohan's party buddies "are not friends," says a close source. "They are enemies. She's got to realize that and walk away. If she doesn't, she could be the next Anna Nicole Smith. That's what I'm afraid of."

For the latest news on Lindsay Lohan, go to PEOPLE.COM/LINDSAY_LOHAN

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