Exclusive Q&A: An Addiction Specialist Explains Why Demi Lovato’s ‘California Sober’ Approach Can Be Dangerous

Demi Lovato got candid about her history with substance use, addiction, recovery, and healing in her new YouTube docuseries, Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil. Lovato revealed in the docuseries that she considered herself “California Sober” – i.e., that she abstains from most drugs but uses alcohol and marijuana in moderation.

But what do addiction specialists and psychologists think about Lovato’s approach to recovery and sobriety? Addiction specialist Patrick Cronin, who works with Ark Behavioral Health, recently answered some questions for Showbiz Cheat Sheet about what it means to be California Sober.

Demi Lovato arrives at the 2020 E! People's Choice Awards held at the Barker Hangar in Santa Monica, California in 2020
Demi Lovato | Rich Polk/E! Entertainment/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

‘California Sober’ is one possible approach to recovery

Alongside her new album, Dancing With the Devil…The Art of Starting Over, Lovato recently got raw and real about her personal and professional journey after her overdose in 2018.

One of the songs on her new album, “California Sober,” explores her unique approach to recovery. This is what Cronin had to say about the lifestyle.

Q: What does it mean to be “California sober?”

A: Some definitions on the internet may vary slightly, but most refer to California Sober as a lifestyle trend where people abstain from using alcohol and hard drugs like heroin, methamphetamine, and cocaine, but continue to use marijuana and other psychedelic substances like psilocybin, mushrooms, and LSD. 

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Q: Is this approach becoming more popular among celebrities like Demi Lovato and other people in recovery? If so, why do you think it is? 

A: “California Sober” is not a recent trend. It has been a lifestyle for some people pursuing recovery and also for people who are not or never been in recovery. Celebrities are constantly in the public eye and are forced to give answers regarding their lifestyle most of the time.

With that being said, California Sober can be a way for people to label their journey with substance abuse. For other individuals, it can truly be the beginning of a path towards recovery. 

Q: Why do you think so many celebrities are turning to this form of recovery? 

A: Some call it a lifestyle; some call it recovery. The reason to turn to this form of “recovery” could vary with each individual. Some celebrities may be able to sustain this type of lifestyle due to financial support and current trends.

Do addiction specialists recommend becoming California Sober?

Q: Is Demi Lovato’s approach to recovery one you would recommend? Are people more susceptible to relapse when they are “California Sober?”

A: From my experience, I could not recommend California Sober.

There is a difference between harm reduction and California Sober. California Sober appears to have no indication of wanting to stop using.

If someone is California Sober, they already have relapsed. I don’t see relapsing as just being about your substance of choice. A relapse is using any substance again. 

Q: For people who do want to follow this approach to addiction management, what kinds of resources would you suggest? 

A: This is a tough one because, once again, harm reduction is different than California Sober. But I think the best resources to get if you don’t want to completely stop using are harm reduction resources or speaking to a therapist who specializes in harm reduction.