What is California Sober?

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By: Renaissance Recovery

Medically Reviewed by: Diana Vo, LMFT

Last Updated: 7/1/2021

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Authored By: Joe Gilmore

Table of Contents

If you have been wondering “What is Cali sober”, you might be interested in a sober living environment, or perhaps you first encountered the term California sober in Demi Lovato’s docu-series Dancing with the Devil.

When the singer/actress first employed the term California sober while outlining her battle with addiction, she was referring to a less hardline approach to sobriety by avoiding all addictive substances except alcohol and marijuana.

Organizations like AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) and most addiction treatment centers champion an evidence-based model of absolutism in the form of complete abstinence. The concept of Cali sober, by contrast, is grounded instead in harm reduction.

California Sober Meaning

What does California sober mean, then?

Well, the definition of Cali sober is fluid and in some ways ambiguous. 

Firstly, California sober means different things to different people. The Urban Dictionary definition of Cali sober is to abstain from the use of all drugs, including alcohol while using only marijuana in moderation.

The term California sober was first coined by author Michelle Lhooq in this essay for Vice magazine. The author details how they abstained from all drugs except marijuana and psychedelics – some definitions of Cali sober also allow for the moderate use of hallucinogens and psychedelics. 

Regardless of the specifics, Cali sober promotes abstaining from some addictive substances, replacing them with theoretically less harmful alternatives.

When Demi Lovato brought the term California sober into the public realm, this prompted a backlash from some people within the recovery community.

Ultimately, everyone has a unique experience of addiction. Since there is no one-size-fits-all treatment for addiction anyway, the issue worth exploring is whether Cali sober is a suitable route to healthy and sober living – especially if you adhere to the hardline definition and eschew everything except marijuana.

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Is Going Cali Sober Recommended for Everyone?

Proponents of a Cali sober lifestyle appreciate the more fluid approach to sobriety, allowing them to enjoy a more moderate and healthier relationship with substances.

Opponents of the California sober ethos point to NIDA’s definition of addiction. The National Institute on Drug Abuse defines addiction as being characterized by “compulsive drug use”, with those addicted to drink or drugs unable to control their substance use. For these people, a California sober approach to recovery is not only inadvisable but possibly even dangerous. 

It is worth noting that Cali sober may be a trending term, but it is neither regulated nor medically recognized.

Beyond this, the lack of a universal definition means there is a wide discrepancy between each extreme of the Cali sober spectrum. Consider someone drinking alcohol, smoking weed, and micro-dosing on hallucinogens. Next, consider someone who is teetotal, avoids all addictive drugs, and refrains recreational drug use to moderate marijuana consumption in the form of edibles.

Aside from the confusion, deciding to go Cali sober could trigger unintended consequences in the shape of a dependency on marijuana and/or alcohol.

With all formal and evidence-based addiction treatment, the goal is to help the patient to stop abusing all addictive substances. Per this model, using any drugs, even alcohol, and marijuana is merely delaying the end goal: total sobriety.

More research is needed into a less absolutist approach to addiction treatment to establish whether approaches like California sober deliver benefits to some people over the long term.

Some practitioners of the California sober approach claim that using marijuana in moderation helps them to moderate problematic patterns of alcohol consumption. Even if this approach does work in some anecdotal cases, using marijuana is not necessarily safe for everyone. 

Firstly, by continuing to use substances like marijuana, you will be more likely to later start drinking alcohol again than if you refrained from all addictive substances. With between 40% and 60% of those in addiction recovery relapsing at least once, you should do all you can to minimize your relapse risk profile. 

Additionally, using marijuana can also trigger some adverse consequences, including: 

  • Decreased motivation.
  • Issues with learning, concentration, and short-term memory.
  • Impairment to both judgment and motor coordination.
  • Paranoia.
  • Psychosis. 
  • Disrupted sleep patterns.
  • Depression, anxiety, restlessness, and irritability, both short-term and long-term.

Beyond this, using marijuana long-term can lead to dependence and addiction. 

This study shows that roughly 30% of those who use marijuana later develop marijuana use disorder. Other research estimates the likelihood of addiction to marijuana at 10% of users. 

The risk of developing an addiction to marijuana is heightened among those who use marijuana frequently, and among those who started using marijuana during youth, according to this study.

Although Demi Lovato was pivotal in introducing the term California sober to the vernacular, the actress has decided to stop being Cali sober herself, reiterating her desire to be “sober sober.”

Getting Sober at Renaissance Recovery

Here at Renaissance Recovery, we’ll help you to embrace all aspects of sober living. 

If you require a supervised medical detox for alcohol or drug withdrawal, we can connect you with suitable facilities throughout California. With prescription medications soothing the intensity of withdrawal symptoms and cravings, you’ll also benefit from around-the-clock clinical and emotional care.

Detox addresses the physical component of addiction, but by engaging with one of our outpatient programs, you can attack the fiercely psychological aspect of addiction to alcohol, prescription medications, or illicit drugs. 

We provide outpatient programs at the following levels of intensity: 

Regardless of the intensity of therapy that makes the best fit, you’ll enjoy access to the same services you would find in residential rehab, but in a more affordable and less restrictive form. At Renaissance Recovery, we offer you the following therapies: 

We will also ensure that you finish your treatment program with the right level of aftercare in place, stepping down to a less intensive form of treatment if this makes the most seamless route to long-term recovery. Get Cali sober in California with the help of Renaissance. Call 866.330.9449 to get things started.

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Pat C

“I owe my life and my happiness to these people. October 8th, 2019 marked two years of sobriety for me, and prior to finding Renaissance I hadn’t had 24 hours sober in nearly 20 years.”

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Diana Vo, LMFT

Diana is an addiction expert and licensed marriage and family therapist who has been in the field of mental health for over 10 years.

Joseph Gilmore

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country