Demi Lovato Changes “California Sober” Living for Real Sobriety

Written by Gerard Bullen

Editor: Editorial Team

Medically Reviewer: Editorial Team

Last updated: March 12, 2022

Demi Lovato, famous U.S. singer/songwriter and Disney actor, and now identifying as nonbinary, has formally announced their decision to quit the “California Sober” lifestyle (where the sole use of marijuana is allowed) for complete 100% sobriety – the accepted 12-Step kind.


I no longer support my ‘California sober’ ways,” Lovato wrote on Instagram Story.


Sober sober is the only way to be.”


In fact, Lovato’s version of California sobriety actually (and quite incorrectly) included the use of alcohol as well as smoking weed, but the “public” was quick to put them straight. 


After a flood of social media messaging and a little trolling, their personal situation has now been clarified once and, possibly, for all – true sobriety, meaning strictly no alcohol, no marijuana, and no other addictive substances.


Lovato, a famous child star who had clearly struggled with the fame element of their adolescence, has suffered from their mental health throughout, including:


  • Bipolar disorder
  • Bulimia (the eating disorder)
  • Recurring self-harm, and
  • Substance use disorders (SUDs)


They have often sought professional treatment; unfortunately, because of their media status, this is always in the glare of the public eye and paparazzi photographers.


To their credit, Lovato has been extremely candid about her up-and-down young life, notably using their influence through both their music and through their following on social media, eg. Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, to find a voice and speak openly about these daily struggles:


If you are going through that dark period, go to your family and closest friends. Don’t put yourself in danger. It’s very crucial that you get your feelings out – but don’t ever inflict harm on your own body because your body is so sacred.”


I wish I could tell every young girl with an eating disorder, or who has harmed herself in any way, that she’s worthy of life and that her life has meaning. You can overcome and get through anything.”


What Does the Term “California Sober” Really Mean?


Prior to their recent documentary series on YouTube – Dancing with The Devil,” in which Lovato spoke about their highly publicized relapses, including suffering 3 strokes and a heart attack during that time, they spoke to CBS Sunday Morning.


During this interview, they admitted to their continued substance use, “I think the term that I best identify with is ‘California sober.’ ”


Marijuana in Hands


I really don’t feel comfortable explaining the parameters of my recovery to people, because I don’t want anyone to look at my parameters of safety and think that’s what works for them, because it might not.”


They continued, “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.”


Regardless, and according to research by the Urban Dictionary, the phrase California Sober or Cali Sober has always been “only weed and no alcohol use”, as a form of harm reduction.


One angry viewer who saw the interview later tweeted:

“@ddlovato I want to let you know you are not a role model for recovery from opiates.

Your claim that you are ‘California Sober’ is an insult.

A stroke. Brain damage. Blindness and hearing loss. And you still drink?!

Such a waste of talent. #wedorecover.” 


Is “Semi-Sobriety” a Feasible Solution for Recovering Substance Addicts?


It begs the question:


Was “California” sobriety (plus drinking alcohol, remember) a sensible solution for a substance addict like Lovato?


Is it sensible for anyone with a diagnosed substance use disorder?


According to Dr. Akhil Anand, MD, a psychology and addiction specialist (and many other addiction experts, for sure), “ ‘California Sober’ is ambiguous and kind of a misnomer. After all, you’re not sober if you’re still using mind-altering substances.”


You’re replacing one addictive substance with another. It’s a slippery slope.”


Furthermore, “replacing alcohol with marijuana isn’t necessarily a safer choice,” Dr. Anand warns. “People who replace alcohol with marijuana are more likely to eventually start drinking again, compared to people who give up drinking and don’t use marijuana. And marijuana itself has negative consequences.


Celebrity Status, Influence & Social Responsibility


Unsurprisingly, some audiences on social media were quick to point out Lovato’s apparent lack of social responsibility.


With an Instagram audience of 120 million followers, a Twitter following of 54.4 million fans worldwide, and a Facebook audience of just over 34 million, publicly giving the “OK” to smoking marijuana as a way of “medicating” your mental health and eating disorders in some way is ill-conceived at best.

Whether we like it or not, celebrities exert a powerful influence on the way teenagers view themselves and how they see the world around them.


Los Angeles



Previously, Demi Lovato has often served as a role model for her teenage fan base and an undoubtedly positive influence. However, the “California Sober” episode is the perfect example of how influence on body image and substance use is often detrimental to teen mental health.


When it comes to substance use, celebrities like Lovato have a clear social responsibility – and one they should not shirk from.


Young people, especially teenagers, idolize their favorite pop stars and will try to be like them.


If one is advocating that the use of marijuana and drinking alcohol is acceptable, that message is heard loud and clear.


One University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study – “Exposure to Cannabis in Popular Music and Cannabis Use among Adolescents” – found that teenagers who frequently listen to music that contains references to marijuana were more likely to use the drug than teens with less exposure to such lyrics.


The Responsible Influencer: Lovato’s Song “Sober”


Before reportedly entering drug rehab after one overdose, Lovato released a song about relapse, entitled “Sober.” The song inspired many young people across the U.S. to open up about their own substance abuse and mental health issues:


Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore

And daddy, please, forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor

To the ones who never left me, we’ve been down this road before

I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore.” – Demi Lovato, “Sober” lyrics


As we know, for many people like Lovato, addiction relapse becomes a major part of their recovery journey. Seen wrongly as a failure, a relapse often is the critical catalyst to make changes to an individual’s recovery management and its overall plan.


Important: You Can Still Become Addicted to Marijuana


Just because marijuana and cannabis are legal in the state where you live, it is still considered to be illegal at the federal level


And, just like all the other illicit substances available in the U.S. today, marijuana can still cause addiction – termed cannabis use disorder or marijuana use disorder.


Currently, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (1970), meaning that:


  • Marijuana has a high potential for abuse
  • There is no currently accepted medical use of marijuana in clinical treatment in the U.S., and
  • Marijuana is considered to have a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision


Although some states within the U.S. have allowed the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, and latterly, its legalization for recreational use, it is the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) alone that has the federal authority to approve drugs for medicinal use in the U.S.


Photo of a man consuming marijuana recreatively


Marijuana: The Dangers for Teenagers


The use of marijuana and cannabis products can actually be dangerous for teenagers – this is because their brain does not fully mature until the age of 25 years.


Decades of medical research have shown that any addictive substance – from marijuana to alcohol to harder drugs – will have an increased psychological and physical impact upon brains that are still developing and maturing.


During the “teenage” years, the brain, literally, is still “under construction.”


Unfortunately, many U.S. teenagers simply aren’t aware of this, and those that do choose to ignore it. The marijuana legalization movement and many U.S. celebrities (excluding Lovato) have added to this confusion with their social media messaging about marijuana’s health benefits, leaving teenagers to believe “If it’s medicine, it must be safe.”


However, the exact same was believed about prescription opioid painkillers, prior to (and even during) the current national opioid epidemic in the U.S.


Marijuana use during adolescence can have the following short-term consequences:


  • Difficulty learning, including retaining new information
  • Accidental injury
  • Auto accidents [see below]
  • Risky sexual behavior, leading to sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Bronchitis, which can become chronic if marijuana use continues


U.S. teenagers need to understand that addiction to marijuana is possible, and it’s even more likely if using the drug begins prior to the age of 18.


In fact, according to the NIDA, marijuana use disorder accounts for nearly 50% of admission for those aged 12-17 years who are currently receiving professional substance use disorder treatment (also known as drug rehab).


The Link Between Gender / Sexual Identity & Substance Abuse


In May of 2021, Demi Lovato announced in a series of messages via Twitter their gender identity as nonbinary from then on. Lovato wrote:


I’ve tried on many identities over the years – the sexy feminine pop star that I felt like people wanted me to be or the poster child for recovery – and now I’m embracing the fact that my lack of commitment to anyone’s identity isn’t a lack of commitment.”


It’s just an openness to continue to evolve.”


The usually candid singer/songwriter did not elaborate any further.


LGBT face


What Does Nonbinary Mean?


According to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the term “Nonbinary” is used by people who do not identify exclusively as a man or a woman. 


Additionally, nonbinary people, such as Lovato, may identify as:


  • Being both a man and a woman
  • Somewhere in between, or as
  • Falling somewhere completely outside of these categories


Gender identity should not be considered as an indication of sexual orientation. The term nonbinary is not a synonym for transgender or transsexual, although someone who is nonbinary may also be transgender.


In fact, sexual orientation is defined by HRC as an “inherent or immutable enduring emotional, romantic or sexual attraction to other people,” meaning that someone who is nonbinary may be straight, lesbian, gay, bisexual, or pansexual.


Lovato described themselves as pansexual (a term that is interchangeable with bisexual) in March 2021, saying that they felt “fluid” in their attraction to people of different genders.

Pansexuality/Bisexuality & Substance Use


In one research study, “Substance Use in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations,” it is reported that “Bisexual identity and/or behavior in particular… related to increased risk for substance abuse.”


Additionally, the 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), found that substance use reported by sexual minority adults is higher compared to those reported by heterosexual adults:


  • More than a third (37.6%) of sexual minority adults 18 and older reported past-year marijuana use, compared to only 16.2% reported by the overall adult population, and
  • Past year opioid use (including misuse of prescription opioids or heroin use) was also higher with 9% of sexual minority adults aged 18 or older reporting use compared to just 3.8%


Sadly, the latest estimates state that a sexual minority adult is around 2.25 – 2.5 times more likely to engage in substance abuse.


Springboard Recovery

SpringBoard Recovery


SpringBoard Recovery is a professional drug and alcohol rehab center located in Scottsdale, Arizona (near Phoenix), and we offer an accredited intensive outpatient drug treatment program, helping our clients successfully recover from a range of drug and alcohol addictions.


We have earned many years of full accreditation from the Joint Commission, which expects the highest national standards for addiction treatment, and we are committed to continually improving patient care.


We accept most major health insurance coverage, and clients travel from all over the U.S. to receive their personalized treatment with us, with many staying in our on-site, substance-free Recovery Housing and Sober Living accommodation.


External Sources:


  • YouTube. Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil – Live Premiere. March 2021. Available at
  • Urban Dictionary. Definition: Cali Sober. March 2021. Available at
  • Instagram. Demi Lovato (@ddlovato). 2021. Available at
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Exposure to Cannabis in Popular Music and Cannabis Use among Adolescents. March 2010. Available at
  • Human Rights Campaign (HRC). Glossary of Terms. 2021. Available at
  • U.S. National Library of Medicine. Substance Use in Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Populations. June 2012. Available at
  • Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH). 2018. Available at

  • Author: Gerard Bullen
    December 7, 2021

    Gerard has been writing exclusively for the U.S. substance addiction treatment industry for many years, providing a range of medically-reviewed work, including white papers, long-form, and short-form content articles, and blog posts for accredited addiction treatment centers. A member of the American Medical Writers Association, Gerard’s specific focus is substance addiction (an area that has impacted Gerard’s personal life in several ways), and he is particularly drawn to the topics of professional, evidence-based treatment, new and alternative therapies, and enabling readers to find their own sustainable, long-term recovery. Gerard lives and works in Maryland, U.S., he’s happily married, and a proud father. His interests include hiking with the family, reading fiction (from the classics to virtually all of the current NYT bestseller list), American and British film classics, and his beloved dogs, Toby and Coco, both rescued from the local pound.

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