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Why Demi Lovato’s California Sober is So Dangerous

Demi Lovato Just Released a Song Called “California Sober”

What is California Sober?

Demi Lovato’s new song, “California Sober,” is about smoking marijuana and drinking alcohol in moderation. Let’s discuss why that idea so dangerous.

In 2018, Demi Lovato was hospitalized for a near-fatal drug overdose. Now, she’s released a documentary on YouTube called, “Dancing with the Devil” and the song “California Sober.” As a result, the world is talking about whether moderation is a treatment option for addicts.

According to the Urban Dictionary, California Sober is a term used to describe a form of sobriety that includes smoking weed and drinking in moderation. In recent interviews, Demi has confirmed that she and her treatment team focus on her drinking and using in moderation as a means of sobriety. While Demi plainly says her method isn’t for everyone, even talking about the idea sends a dangerous message to addicts and alcoholics.

Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous say that addicts cannot drink or use in moderation. So, where did the idea of moderation and California Sober come from?

Lovato’s California Sober is Similar to the Moderation Management Program 

Moderation Management Failed the Woman who Created It

In the mid-90s, Audrey Kishline founded the program Moderation Management. Ms. Kishline rejected the theory that alcoholism is a disease. She founded Moderation Management as substitute for AA.

The Moderation Management program is built on the theory that those who suffer from alcoholism can successfully drink. I can see how appealing that concept can is. Who doesn’t want to drink or use drugs successfully? But to do so means forgetting the bottoms we hit and ignoring the dangers of addiction. The fact is, drugs and alcohol lead us to prison, institutions, or death.

Demi Lovato’s California Sober is similar to the Moderation Management program. It allows addicts and alcoholics to smoke marijuana and drink in moderation. It is tremendously dangerous idea, and Audrey Kishline’s own story proves that.

After founding Moderation Management and being in the program for many years, Audrey Kishline’s drinking was out of control. She turned away from the program she founded and went to Alcoholics Anonymous for help. Two months later, she killed a father and his 13-year-old daughter in an alcoholic blackout. For the remainder of her life, she struggled with alcoholism, psychiatric problems, and the aftermath of the deadly accident she caused. In the end, she took her own life. It’s a tremendously sad, cautionary tale.

Audrey Kishline Denounced Moderation Management

Read What She Said about Trying to Contol Her Own Drinking

Ms. Kishline publically denounced Moderation Management and came to believe that abstinence was the only path to sobriety. In an interview on Dateline, she admitted that the Moderation Management program was created to give herself a license to drink.

Without AA or a recovery center like Breakthrough Recovery Outreach, it’s easy to believe one drink won’t hurt us. Sadly, that’s just not true. The below quote from Audrey Kishline explains how she came to feel about moderation after trying it.

“I am giving this statement in a public forum because I pray that my story can touch at least one other alcoholic. When I failed at moderation, and then failed at abstinence, I was too full of embarrassment and shame to seek help. In self-pity I gave up and believed my nightly drinking at home could hurt no one but myself.”

Audrey Kishline, New York Times, July 7, 2000.
Advocate of Moderation for Heavy Drinkers Learns Sobering Lesson – The New York Times (

California Sober Forgets the Fact that Addiction is Cunning, Baffling and Powerful

Where Does that Leave Us?

The Big Book and AA both talk about the cunning nature of addiction and alcoholism. We have but a daily reprieve from our disease. We’ve all seen that what happens whe our friends relapse. It is heartbreaking and the effects can be deadly. 

I know someone whose denial got the best of her. She decided to try moderation as a way to treat her addiction. Like Demi Lovato, she thought her problem was only related to the drug that brought her negative consequences. As a result, she felt drinking was safe. It hadn’t harmed her. Yet.

Moderation didn’t work out for my friend. Drinking makes us lose our inhibition and impairs judgement. My friend’s attempt at moderation found her a new and more horrible bottom than her first. Demi Lovato is risking that, too. And, next time she may not live to tell about it. 

California Sober and Moderation Management Enable Denial

For Addicts and Alcoholics, Denial Can Be Deadly

When I was at Breakthrough, a young man left the program before Chris Jacobs thought he was ready. He used once, overdosed, and died. We can get lost that quickly. If we take our eyes off the prize of sobriety for a second, we could be lost forever. The story has stuck with me. I’m so sorry it happened. But, I’m infinitely grateful for the healthy fear it instilled in me.

Kishline’s denial reminds me of a story in the Big Book’s chapter, “More About Alcoholism.” In that story, we read about the man who poured vodka into his milk, thinking it didn’t really count. Of couse, it did and his alcoholism progressed until he stopped drinking.

People who believe in Moderation Management and California Sober say Kishline’s story shouldn’t be used to prove that their program doesn’t work. After all, she was an AA member at the time of the accident and the time of her death.

But what if she had gotten sober instead of founding Moderation Management? She could have stopped drinking, found sobriety, and freedom. Maybe the two people she killed would be alive. Maybe she would.

So, What Does Moderation Mean for Addicts?

Exactly What Demi Lovato Says It Does – A Dance with the Devil

Alcoholism and addiction are diseases that impact the way we think. Trying to drink without going to far is a mental mind game we can’t win. After all, we all have thoughts that compromise our sobriety. Here’s one of mine:

When I had four years sober, I needed surgery. I was prescribed medication and had someone give them. One day after I’d recovered, I got the pills from the bathroom and put them on top of a cabinet. Because I had gone to rehab, AA, and participated in an aftercare program, I had the tools to stop my relapse before it happened. Those pills went down the toilet. I did not.

With the best preparation, any drink or drug has the ability to change our thinking. Addiction and alcoholism are progressive diseases that get worse over time. California Sober is not a viable option and to practice it is to dance with the devil.

Demi Lovato had multiple strokes and was in a coma, but believes she can manage her drinking.. That alone is proof of how cunning and baffling the disease of addiction is.

There is A Solution

Abstinence Doesn’t Mean Losing Something

As a newcomer, I grieved the loss of drugs. I didn’t know who I was without them. But, I did know they weren’t working for me. I was sure they would kill me if I didn’t stop.

The first few months, I did what Breakthrough Recovery Outreach teaches every patient. I trusted the process. It wasn’t always easy, but it was ALWAYS worth it. It still is.

You can find your best self in recovery and you won’t need alcohol or drugs to numb your feelings. Work the Twelve Steps and find the joy you deserve. You’re worth it.

Please comment below if you would like to share your thoughts with us. We’d love to hear from you.

If you or someone you love needs help, Breakthrough Recovery Outreach Will Throw you a Life Preserver

Take it and you won’t believe the miracles that will happen

Call us at (770) 493-7750 or Contact Us by email and let a compassionate member of our professional team help you.

Leave a comment

  1. This is an age-old claim by AAers and all abstincence based programs that alcohol, in any amount is dangerous if you had a problem with over consumption at some point. Fear is a huge driving force of keeping membership engaged in AA and the number of days “sober” is paramount to anything else which is why when a member “goes out”, they must essentially start all over again. Having been in AA for decades, I can tell you that when a member goes out — they really go out. Who wants to be a newcomer again and again when the only respect you gain in AA is from time sober? So AA harkens up Kishline again and again as if her story is proof that moderation can never work. And AA conveniently cannot report statistics on its successes of failures since it is anonymous. But let me tell you, after years in AA, I saw many who needlessly lost everything and even their own lives due to the all or nothing dogma practiced there. The whole disease concept was never proven or scrutinized — just part of the fear based literature used in 12 Step Programs formulated in 1935 and for the most part unchanged since then.
    AA has a drumbeat of Live and Let Live — so I would leave Lovato and Kishline be.

    1. Hi Corrine, Thank you for your comment. I agree that fear is a factor. My spoonsor called it a healthy fear. We all have different experieces with drinking and in AA. I was never taught to believe that relapsing was a failure or moment of shame. I was taught that it was part of the disease. Every AAer I’ve ever seen relapse has been met with hugs and support. But that’s not the issue I want to address. You claim the disease concept has never been proven. That’s absolutely false and I’ll prove it. First of all, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5) which is a tool used by all psychiatrists for diagnosing illness, recognizes it. Second, the Mayo Clinic disagrees with you – Third, the long-term effects of alcohol consumption cause brain damage, liver disease and liver failure, pancreatitis, high-blood pressure, diabetes and death – to name a few. In the short term, it can cause alcohol poisoning and also death. Again, this is not my opinion or the opinion of Breakthrough Recovery Outreach. This is science-based evidence from Harvard University. They describe all the physical complications of alcohol use and abuse here: So, is AA a little fear based? Yes. People don’t survive liver failure and alcoholics are not top on transplant lists. And, of course, we bring up Kishline. She founded the Moderation Management Program and followed it to her peril. And, while you don’t recognize alcoholism as a disease, you do admit that people who abuse it lose everything. I’m sure you’re aware that includes their very lives. Yes, people try to get clean and sober and can relapse. Sometimes they do go out hard and die or end up hospitalized like Demi Lovato for months. Are you awware that she has no peripheral vision anymore because of her overdose? She’s lucky to be alive. If someone isn’t scared of dying after that and still wants to toy with using alcohol and smoking weed, is that mental wellness? I think not. It’s mental illness, further proving the disease concept. Finally, the only judgement of Demi Lovato is that she is a public figure and is promoting a dangerous experiment to a huge audience. You may not be an AA member, but your your years in the program taught you that we are to remain anonymous at the level of press, radio, and films. Her song and her public approval of California Sober is WHY that tradition was written. It’s a dangerous concept. As much as this blog and the idea of abstinece-based programs irritate you, the truth is this. People who abstain, do not die of alcoholism. They don’t overdose. They don’t have babies with fetal alcohol sydrome, and they don’t lose everything over a chemical. And, far above the fear, there is a promise. If someone relapses and then abstains and achieves sobriety, THEY ARE GUARANTEED not to endure the horrific consequences of substance abuse. Kisline didn’t have the guarantee. Neither does Lovato. And, they and you deserve it.

  2. Moderation Management has helped, and continues to help, thousands of people get the help they need to make changes to their relationship with alcohol. The perception that full abstinence is the ONLY road to recovery has prevented many thousands more from seeking any sort of help. Although Audrey’s story is tragic, it is not representative of the results MM has helped so many people achieve. We are a growing and thriving organization where people are able to choose their own path, many of which choose abstinence with the help of our communities. We acknowledge that moderation isn’t for everyone, but if MM helps just one person get the help they need, in whatever for that takes, then we will have achieved our goal.

    1. Hi Andrea. Thank you for commenting on this blog. Your thoughts matter to us. I am reminded of the first chapter in the Twelve and Twelve of Alcoholics Anonymous where someone suggests to their sponsor that they aren’t alcoholic. The sponsor says to try and go out and drink successfully. There are people who aren’t true alcoholics and don’t fit the medical criteria for addiction. But, Demi Lovato does meet that criteria. Her overdose caused three strokes and a coma. She was addicted to a drug that caused withdrawal sypmptoms and experienced negative consequences in every area of her life. Our blog is for people like her, for people like Demi and Audrey. Our goal as a treatment center is not to help one person and that isn’t the primary purpose of NA or AA, either. The purpose is to help millions. During an opiate epidemic and a pandemic, one life saved is simply not enough. We are glad MM helped you. We just don’t recommend it because it’s a slippery slope that can result in death. One relapse is sometimes all it takes for a person to kill someone else or die. We promote abstinence because nobody overdoses or kills a family in an alcoholic blackout while sober. People practicing moderation don’t have that guarantee.

  3. What Demi Lovato is doing is not Moderation Management, she’s using and opioid blocker (Vivitrol). It’s called TSM or The Sinclair Method. I use naltrexone. It’s where you take pills, wait an hour and consume alcohol. I agree the term “California Sober” can be misleading, especially to her younger fans dealing with addictions. However, she’s right, one size does not fit all and a lot of people have had success with the Sinclair Method. I recommend Claudia Christian’s Ted Talk on TSM- it doesn’t work for everyone, but I do believe people can drink moderately by changing their brain chemistry with an opioid blocker. A lot of people are still not familiar with this treatment. She seems to be doing well and hoping it continues to work for her.

    1. Hi and thank you for your comment. We stand behind the opinions expressed in this piece. We also appreciate your feedback. I’m the author and am not a medical professional but the Vivitrol website specifically states “you should stop drinking before starting Vivitrol.” We suggest adhering to the medical advice given about the medication.