In the wake of her near-fatal heroin and fentanyl overdose in 2018, Demi Lovato has described her moderate drinking and cannabis use during addiction recovery as being “California sober.”
The 28-year-old pop star was asked to talk about her return to the limelight following almost a decade of struggle with addiction during an interview with Tracy Smith on “CBS Sunday Morning.”
Lovato has endured two highly publicized relapses and suffered “three strokes and a heart attack” during that time — details of which will be shared in her forthcoming YouTube documentary “Dancing With the Devil.”
Lovato also talked about her current stage of recovery, when CBS’s Smith asked her to elaborate on the “moderation” approach to recovery.
“So, you’re doing what they call moderation, I guess, right? So, you’re drinking, smoking a little bit of weed, is that fair to say?” Smith asked.
“Yeah. I think the term that I best identify with is ‘California sober,’ ” said Lovato, at her Los Angeles home with Smith last week. “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.”
She 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.”
Yet some viewers were critical of the “California sober” tagline.
“No clue what the specifics of ‘California sober’ are, but I would be offended if I was from California and that was the label. cc:@CBSSunday,” tweeted one critic in response to the segment.
“@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,” added another.
While the textbook definition of “sober” implies a total lack of intoxicating substances, Lovato’s “California sober” is different — a little more loosely defined.
Also shortened to “Cali sober,” the tongue-in-cheek catchphrase was coined in 2016, according to one of the earliest definitions on UrbanDictionary.com: “To abstain from all drugs except marijuana and alcohol.”
“It’s a terrible term,” said NYU Langone Health addiction psychiatrist Dr. Collin Reiff, explaining that the “ambiguous” word indicates a lack of accountability in the addiction patient. “It’s a real slippery slope,” he told The Post.
But the concept of “moderation” bears merit, according to Reiff, who prefers the “harm reduction” approach. Programs such as Moderation Management (MM), founded by Audrey Kishline in 1994 as an alternative to Alcoholics Anonymous’ abstinence-based 12-step program, can help “open the door” to recovery for addicts who may feel that self-controlled drug or alcohol use is achievable for them.
However, in approximately 30% of cases, MM participants move on to complete sobriety and abstinence from intoxicants. Moreover, a 2003 study found that 15% of participants in MM showed symptoms tantamount to clinical alcoholism.
“I have to meet my patients where they’re currently at,” said Reiff, whose patients most often move on to drug and alcohol abstinence. As an entryway to recovery, “harm reduction works,” he added. “But harm reduction does not work when someone has a history of relapsing, getting themselves in life-threatening situations, or compromising others.”
Unfortunately for some, a label like “California sober” may serve to support the addict’s denial of their disease. “Ambiguity is a restraining force that holds the individual back from sobriety,” said Reiff. “It takes courage to be specific.”
Carrie Wilkens, co-founder and clinical director of the Center for Motivation and Change in Manhattan, conceded that it may seem tone-deaf toward Californians who engage in sobriety, but praised Lovato for her “bravery.”
“The fact that she is talking about her process so openly is a gift and I’m sure inspirational to many,” Wilkens told The Post, adding that “one size does not fit all.”
“It is often a long, multi-step process of understanding what your goals need to be and why,” Wilkens explained. “It takes a lot of bravery to share your change process with the world and I’ll give her a lot of credit for doing that.”
Regardless of the potential successes and pitfalls associated with this approach, Lovato has strongly identified with the potentially problematic slogan — as indicated by the song “California Sober,” which appears on her upcoming album, “Dancing with the Devil … the Art of Starting Over,” set to drop on April 2.
She concluded during Sunday’s interview, “I feel so good. I feel more joy in my life than I’ve ever felt, because I’m not quieting or diminishing any part of myself.”
“Dancing with the Devil” premieres Tuesday on YouTube.