In the latest example of linguistic gymnastics, the term “California sober” has gone totally viral, thanks to Demi Lovato. The singer-turned-actress just confessed that she’s living the CA sober lifestyle.
“Yeah. I think the term that I best identify with is ‘California sober,’ ” said Lovato recently on CBS Sunday Morning. “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.”
Lovato, who has struggled for over a decade with drug and alcohol addiction (indeed, it almost killed her), still partakes of alcohol and weed.
“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.”
Demi Lovato & California Sober
Experts in the field argue that “moderation” isn’t sobriety. Nor is substituting one addictive substance with another — such as replacing alcohol with weed. This, they argue, is still a substance issue.
“Real recovery from an addiction means more than simply replacing one substance with another,” says the site Dual Diagnosis. “In fact, recovery might mean more than replacing a drug with an action. Recovery means developing a sophisticated suite of tools people can use in order to deal with the ups and downs of life. Rather than pushing off dysfunction onto another drug, people need to learn how to handle life without any kind of substance at all. That’s the kind of transformation rehab can bring about.”
Addiction specialist Patrick Cronin from Ark Behavioral Health, shares a similar view.
“With her history of relapse, more than likely it shows that she is an alcoholic, but the reality is she’s the only one that can decide that. It seems like other substances have brought her back to opiates in the past. Most would say she never stopped using at all, at least in the recovery community,” Cronin tells Parentology.
Moreover, Lovato’s version of “California sober” is her own; the “official” definition is a bit more rigid.
A Loose Term, Defined
The Urban Dictionary (that bastion of alt information) snarkily defines “California sober” thusly:
To abstain oneself from all of the drugs. With obvious exceptions of copious amounts of marijuana (giggle bush) and psychedelics.
So, is “California sober” a way for addicts to simply avoid total drug abstinence? One of the criticisms of Alcoholics Anonymous is that its goal is an eventual abstention from alcohol and other drugs. While Cronin admits this is true, he thinks AA is firmly rooted in understanding all the pitfalls of addiction.
“AA may be about abstinence, but it also understands relapse and does not turn people away that try different paths. They are always welcoming and hope that the final goal will be abstinence,” Cronin commented.
Perhaps “California sober” is just rebranding. The original term for just using marijuana — or using it as a replacement substance for other drugs (including alcohol and heroin) — is “marijuana maintenance.” However, that practice doesn’t have stellar reviews among substance abuse experts.
Creative Care, a mental health treatment center in Calabasas, CA, might use multiple treatments for addicts, but marijuana maintenance isn’t among them. Its site explains:
“Heavy marijuana use can lead to withdrawal symptoms, including insomnia, decreased appetite, mood swings, irritability, and depression. These symptoms can begin as soon as a few hours after the effects of the drug wear off and can last for months. And while they may seem trivial compared to the horrors of opiate or alcohol withdrawal, they’re exactly the kind of factors that can spell serious trouble for a person using a marijuana maintenance plan to recover from harder, more immediately dangerous drugs. More specifically, it’s setting the stage for relapse.”
Experts like Cronin also find these piecemeal trends alarming, because, thanks to COVID-19, addiction and substance abuse rates are particularly high right now. “The addiction rates are staggering right now especially with the lack of resources due to the pandemic. Our ark facilities’ admits have doubled since the pandemic,” Cronin says.
Why “California Sober” Is Gaining Popularity
As more and more states legalize weed in some form or another — New York state being the most recent — its social acceptability will skyrocket. And, as weed is big business (and brings in big tax revenues for states), the idea of replacing alcohol with marijuana as being “healthier” or “safer” will undoubtedly grow.
“I can’t really speak for the industry, but I am seeing a lot of this being discussed to push the weed industry,” Cronin says. “I also think people push for this because they can’t accept or own their part in a relapse. Sometimes people want to live the easier softer way. Getting sober is not easy at all. If it were, everyone would be doing it. But the rewards are endless.”
People with established addiction issues, then, might want to think twice before embarking on a “California sober” plan. It’s a slippery slope toward total recidivism. As Cronin shares in a stunningly honest statement: “If you are a true drug addict, like myself, if I am deciding on how my use is going to be, I’m going to be high and more than likely homeless every time.”