What is California Sober?

Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

May 31, 2023

Table of Contents

California sober is a term that suggests a person has become sober from all substance use except marijuana.

Many individuals try to use marijuana as a replacement for other addictive substances like drugs and alcohol, however, there is a lot of controversy about whether or not this is a safe practice in sobriety. Many in the sober community feel that addictive personalities cannot manage even one substance in moderation without falling into relapse.

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However, California sober means different things to different people, with other drugs included at times, however, the Urban Dictionary definition of Cali sober is to abstain from the use of all drugs, including alcohol while using only marijuana in moderation.

two people with surfboards walk down the beach to represent to represent a California sober lifestyle.

California Sober

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, the California sober approach 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 when the singer/actress first employed the term California sober while outlining her battle with addiction.

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 of complete abstinence and eschew everything except marijuana.

An image of california sunset | California sober

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 as a harm reduction technique.

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 from recreational drug use to moderate marijuana consumption in the form of edibles.

a woman is looking out at California scenery to represent a California sober lifestyle.

Potential Consequences of a California Sober Lifestyle

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

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 and complete 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 lifestyle claim that using marijuana in moderation helps them to moderate problematic patterns of alcohol consumption and is a form of harm reduction. 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, get the help you need at our Huntington Beach rehab center. 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. Call 866.330.9449 to get things started.

Palm trees agains a blue sky to represent a california sober lifestyle.

California Sober FAQs

What does being California sober mean?

“California sober” is a term used to describe a form of sobriety where an individual abstains from their drug of choice but may still use cannabis and occasionally consume alcohol. It was popularized by Demi Lovato, a singer, to describe their own approach to recovery. However, interpretations of what it means to be California sober can vary among individuals.

Does California sober really work?

The effectiveness of the California sober lifestyle is subjective and varies among individuals. While some may find it helpful as a harm reduction strategy or a way to manage substance use, results differ based on personal circumstances and other health goals.

Professional guidance and support are important when considering any recovery approach, including harm reduction techniques.

What is California clean slang?

Individuals who identify as “California sober” or “Cali sober” typically choose to either consume alcohol and “hard” drugs in moderation or completely abstain from them.

“Hard drugs” refer to substances such as Heroin, Cocaine, and crystal Methamphetamine, while “soft” drugs like Marijuana, LSD, or Psilocybin are often preferred instead of harder drugs.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

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