What Does it Mean to Be California Sober?

by | Last updated Oct 17, 2022 | Published on Oct 14, 2022 | Recovery | 0 comments

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The term “California sober” is gaining popularity among people struggling with substance use disorders. It can help ease them into sobriety without quitting cold turkey. Experts still question whether it’s the best way to get sober. Here’s all about this new movement. 

What does it mean to be “California sober”?

“California sober,” “Cali sober,” or “semi sober” is an approach to substance abuse recovery in which people struggling with addiction cut out addictive substances and replace them with alternatives that, in theory, are less harmful.

Often, California sober refers explicitly to replacing harder drugs, such as opioids, with alcohol and marihuana, substances considered safer and less addictive by proponents.

The term rose in popularity after singer and actor Demi Lovato talked about their opioid addiction. Lovato said that California sober was the term they felt the most identified with, expressing that complete abstinence isn’t a “one-size-fits-all solution for everybody.”

The term’s origin goes back a couple of years, however. It is attributed to Michelle Lhooq, a writer who published an article about overcoming her substance use. Lhooq stopped all substance use except for marihuana and certain psychedelics after moving from New York to California. Hence “California sober.”

How is “California sober” different from long-term abstinence?

The main difference is that the California sober approach still uses (and potentially abuses) addictive substances to reduce harm, similar to switching to nicotine gum or vaping after quitting smoking.

On the other hand, people practicing abstinence permanently refrain from any addictive substance.

Alcohol and marihuana are the most common substances people use in this lifestyle. But there is no exact definition of being California sober, so the substance people use to replace the one they’ve been struggling with varies. It’s simply a substance individually deemed “safer.”

Will the “California sober” lifestyle help you stay sober long-term?

For some people, it may help them stay away from their substances. However, multiple addiction specialists doubt its effectiveness and even downright discourage it, preferring long-term abstinence. This is because California sober individuals are technically still misusing other addictive drugs. 

California sober may sound tempting for people who struggle with addiction and substance use because it doesn’t cut out substances completely. But there may be reasons to be cautious of this approach. These are some of the reasons why “California sober” may not be the best approach for you:

  • You are still taking an addictive substance: even if you are consuming a substance with a lower potential for overdose (like marihuana), you’d still be taking an addictive substance. 
  • It has no clear definition: everyone can have an idea of what it means to be California sober. People may apply it differently and may even accept the use of hard drugs “sometimes” while mainly using alcohol or marihuana.
  • Too many unclear choices: people using the California sober approach may ask whether they can use their “replacement” substance every day, how much of it is acceptable, and which exactly are the “soft” drugs they can use. 
  • You struggle with control: even if you are not using highly addictive opioids, you still have challenges controlling the amount of alcohol or marijuana you use. This means you’re still dealing with many downsides of a substance use disorder. 

Should you use the “California sober” approach?

As stated before, it may work for some people, but it also may not for others. Lovato later found that they couldn’t sustain using other drugs to reduce the harm done by opioids and eventually claimed that “sober sober” is the only way to be. 

That doesn’t mean that no one can consume other substances in moderation, but experience shows that abstinence works best for most people struggling with addiction. If you or some you love struggles with substance use, answer these questions:

  • Has your substance use led to medical, mental, or social consequences?
  • Do you feel a strong need to use your substance of choice?
  • Is it hard to stop using once you start?
  • Do you experience withdrawal symptoms if you stop using?

If the answer to any of these is “yes,” there may be a problem, and your best bet would be to seek professional help from addiction experts. They might recommend the best course of treatment for you. A comprehensive rehab treatment program might help you find the right road to recovery, where maybe being California sober has a place. 

The bottom line is: introducing other addictive substances into your recovery may work for some people, but it is always safer and more conducive to your long-term sobriety to practice abstinence above all else.

Written by: Tyler Fordham

Written by: Tyler Fordham

Tyler is a writer with dual degrees from the University of South Florida. Having grown up with an alcoholic father, she understands both the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that addiction can affect the family unit. This Miami native has become a champion of mental health and an active believer in the power of positive thinking. When she isn't at the beach, Tyler enjoys running, jigsaw puzzles, and snuggling with her cat, Poof.

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