Is Demi Lovato’s ‘Cali Sober’ Lifestyle Realistic For People Struggling With Substance Abuse?

By Melody Rose··  6 min read
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dancing with the devil

Demi Lovato, the 29-year-old pop rock singer, has been in the public eye since 2010 with her long history of substance abuse, rehab, relapse, and regaining sobriety. 

In March 2018, Demi Lovato celebrated six successful years of sobriety, followed by a near fatal relapse on July 24, 2018 from an overdose of opioid drugs, heroin, and fentanyl. In a docuseries detailing her road to recovery, Demi referenced the relapse, stating, “I picked up a bottle of red wine that night, and it wasn’t even 30 minutes before I called someone that I knew had drugs on them.” The dealer who gave Demi the heroin laced with fentanyl also sexually abused her when she was unconscious.

Ever since the July 2018 incident, it seems Demi has been struggling to catch her footing with consistent sobriety again. In her latest docuseries, Dancing With The Devil, that came out in March 2021, Demi described herself as “Cali Sober.” She backed up her new label with the argument, “Telling myself that I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana, I feel like that’s setting myself up for failure.” 

The definition of being “Cali Sober” refers to someone who abstains from hard drugs such as heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamines but continues to use marijuana or psychedelics on occasion — basically using softer drugs and alcohol in moderation. While Demi says she no longer identifies with this relaxed approach to sobriety as of a recent December 2021 report, it still left much in question for those who are on the path to recovery. Is this type of approach even realistic for someone who is struggling with true substance abuse?

The 3 Types of Users

Contrary to popular belief it isn’t always easy to identify those who are struggling with drug and alcohol disorders. We tend to think of this as a black and white situation, when in fact there are many shades of gray in between. While the below is referencing the three different types of alcohol users, it can also be applied to drug use as well.

  1. Casual Drinkers: These are your social drinkers. People who occasionally drink alcohol. They typically drink responsibly, which means they don’t get drunk or black out regularly.

  2. Problem Drinkers: A problem drinker will consume alcohol frequently. They tend to drink more than they mean to and regret what they do when they drink. Problem drinkers may experience health effects, but they can quit on their own.

  3. Alcoholics: These drinkers can’t control how much they drink. Most drink daily. They regularly encounter problems in various aspects of life because of how much or how often they drink. These types of drinkers require support groups or rehab to stay sober.

Given the above, it’s clear that Demi’s reported history with drug and alcohol use would place her in the category of addict (or alcoholic), meaning her patterns of substance use are not in her control and not a choice she can intentionally make. Therefore, complete abstinence from all substances would be the healthiest approach for long-term sobriety yielding the most health benefits for her. 

Cali Sober allows you to use softer drugs like marijuana and psychedelics.

As she mentioned in regards to her 2018 relapse, all it took was 30 minutes from touching a bottle of red wine for her mind to trigger an escalation. This is the case for many who identify with addiction, and why “Cali Sober” seems to be an excuse to escape the real work it takes to get sober, unfortunately asking for more problems.

How Do You Know If You Have a Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychiatric Association, there are 11 signs that indicate it’s time to seek support and get sober, the most prominent factor being how heavily it impacts your daily life. 

  1. Alcohol is taken in larger amounts than intended.

  2. There’s a persistent desire to cut back, but the attempts are unsuccessful.

  3. A large amount of time is spent on activities to get, use, and recover from alcohol.

  4. Strong cravings and impulses to use/drink develop. 

  5. Obligations at work, home, or school are impeded due to recurring use/drinking.

  6. Recurrent social or interpersonal problems occur, but the person still can’t stop.

  7. Important social, occupational, or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of use.

  8. There’s recurrent alcohol use in situations that are physically hazardous.

  9. Physical or psychological problems are likely to be caused or exacerbated by alcohol, but the person can’t stop even when fully aware.

  10. Increased tolerance forms, marked by a need for increased amounts to achieve desired effect or diminished effect with use of the same amount.

  11. Withdrawal symptoms begin to develop.

2-3 symptoms are considered mild, 4-5 symptoms moderate, and 6+ symptoms severe. As we’ve seen with Demi’s public recordings of her recovery journey, she’s experienced many of these symptoms and continues to fight a daily battle of cyclic patterns.

When Moderation Doesn’t Work

It’s clear that trendy terms like “Cali Sober” are presenting gateways to unfortunate circumstances for those who are truly suffering from substance abuse. Moderation usually just isn’t a possibility for those who are addicted and in fact is why many are protesting the movement, saying it’s mocking recovery.

Moderation just isn’t a possibility for those who are addicted.

While there are Moderation Management programs (moderation referring to 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 per day for women with drinks that are equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits), these programs are intended to support those who are heavy, binge, or problem drinkers. Addicts may experience adverse effects that trigger intense relapses.

Given Demi’s history, I believe this is why she has since rejected her Cali Sober lifestyle and is seeking true sobriety again. I hope she finds the healing and support needed for consistent health and success. As for her fans and the general public, let’s hope her journey serves to shed light on the severity of substance abuse and the heartbreaking effects it can have on those who are suffering as well as their loved ones.

Closing Thoughts

If you or someone you know is suffering from substance abuse disorders, seek support today! There are many valuable resources out there that serve to successfully achieve recovery and help victims reclaim their lives.

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