Actress, singer, television personality: Demi Lovato (they/them) does it all.
Plus, she’s been remarkably open about their journey through substance addiction. Lovato first entered drug treatment in 2010. Years later, they suffered a high-profile fentanyl overdose in 2018, which kept them hospitalized for two weeks. Lovato’s current project is a YouTube documentary series called Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil, which acts as a sort of companion piece to their recent album of the same name.
While Lovato should certainly be applauded for sharing her story of surviving addiction, they have also adopted a stance toward substance use some may find troubling. Called “California Sober,” it’s an approach in which a person uses certain substances in moderation.
In Lovato’s case, the substances are alcohol and cannabis (marijuana).
What Is “California Sober,” Anyway?
In a CBS Sunday Morning interview from March 2021, the pop star explained what the term meant to them. “I am cautious to say that, just like I feel the complete abstinent method isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody, I don’t think that this journey of moderation is a one-size-fits-all solution for everybody, too,” Lovato said.
Lovato’s stance has earned them some criticism. Vanderpump Rules star Lala Kent went on the Today show and criticized the California Sober approach, vehemently disagreeing with the idea a sober person can continue to use substances at all. “If you are drinking or you’re smoking weed, you’re not sober,” said Kent.
As for the term itself, it seems to have originated in an article on Vice.com in 2019. The writer, Michelle Lhooq, wrote about how a move from New York City to Los Angeles caused her to restrict her drug intake to just marijuana and psychedelics.
There’s no clear definition of what “California Sober” really means. For some, the term might mean replacing other addictive substances with cannabis. For others, it might mean using addictive substances like alcohol (and cannabis) in strict moderation. For still others, it may simply mean avoiding all so-called “hard drugs” like cocaine and heroin in favor of psychedelics like psilocybin or ayahuasca.
Recovery certainly isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. And yes, there may be some people who can truly moderate their addiction by either switching substances or strictly controlling their use.
Most treatment professionals will tell you it’s a bad idea, though. And here’s why.
California Sober Seems To Not Work Over The Long Run
“You’re replacing one addictive substance with another. It’s a slippery slope,” says The Cleveland Clinic’s Akhil Anand, MD, in the clinic’s Health Essentials blog.
It’s a good point. Both alcohol and marijuana are addictive substances and can create many of the same effects, like impaired judgment, reflexes, and thinking. Also, both substances share a similar chemical effect in the body: they cause a dopamine release.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter used as part of the brain’s reward system. When we do certain things, our brain reinforces those positive behaviors by releasing a small amount of dopamine. Addictive drugs like alcohol and cannabis can turn that drip into a far larger amount, creating a reward loop that encourages further substance use.
All addictive drugs cause the body to release dopamine, which is why people are driven to keep using, even when everything around them – job, family, physical health – gets damaged through drug use. While cannabis doesn’t seem to have nearly the same negative effects on health and society as alcohol abuse does, it’s still a substance that hasn’t been widely studied.
Most importantly, studies have shown moderation is far harder to achieve than pure abstinence. A study from the University of Gothenburg in Sweden examined around 200 patients two and a half years after they received treatment for alcohol use. Attitudes toward recovery are flexible in Sweden, some treatment providers subscribe to an abstinence philosophy; others think moderation is the way to control drinking.
Of the patients, 90% of the patients who took an abstinence approach to drinking were sober at the end of the two-and-a-half-year period. Only 50% of the patients who took the moderation approach were still in control of their drinking.
California Sober Isn’t Harm Reduction, Either
Harm reduction is an interesting philosophy in drug and alcohol addiction treatment. In that approach, someone wishing to control their substance use works out a strategy to reduce their substance use and reduce the negative consequences of their drug and alcohol abuse.
Some may consider California sober to be a form of harm reduction similar to drug replacement programs used for opioid addiction. In these programs, patients receive medications like Sublocade or methadone, which are chemically similar to addictive opioid drugs such as heroin.
However, these programs are run by clinical professionals. Medication-assisted therapy (MAT) and drug replacement medications are prescribed, strictly controlled, and used in carefully supervised situations. Also, these programs are often accompanied by a comprehensive rehab program, which addresses both substance use and the psychological issues which often drive it.
So far, California sober seems to leave those decisions up to the person using substances.
Sober Living Means Exactly That: Living Without Substance Use
The debate over what California sober is and isn’t will likely be hashed out for years. In the meantime, for someone looking to free themselves from drug and alcohol addiction, abstinence seems like the best choice.
Sober living homes provide the perfect environment for staying away from substance use. Joining a sober home isn’t like becoming a roommate, it’s playing a part in a community dedicated to the same goal: freedom from drugs and alcohol. But finding a sober home for your particular needs isn’t always easy.
That’s why we built SoberLivingNearYou.com, the internet’s largest listing of sober homes in the US. With our site, you’ll be able to find the perfect sober home for your budget, lifestyle, and need. Want privacy? We’ll help you get a room of your own. Want to bring your pet along? We’ll find a space for both of you.