California Sober: Is it a Worthwhile Approach to Sobriety?

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“California sober” or “Cali sober” refers to a lifestyle or approach to substance use that involves not using certain drugs while still allowing for the moderate use of others, which are in theory less harmful. The term gained popularity in recent years, particularly in celebrity culture. Nevertheless, people are rethinking whether California sober is as harmless as they originally thought. Avenues Recovery, leading residential and outpatient treatment centers, presents an overview of Cali sober and its pros and cons.

What is California Sober?

Typically, California sober describes a situation in which an individual refrains from consuming certain drugs such as cocaine, heroin, or meth but may choose to use substances like marijuana and alcohol in moderation, considering them to be safer. Alternatively, they might use marijuana instead of alcohol and other drugs. The term “California sober” originated in California, where the use of cannabis (marijuana) for medicinal purposes was legalized in 1996, and recreational use was legalized in 2016.

California sober’s meaning can vary from person to person, and there is no strict definition or universally agreed-upon set of rules. It is more of an individual’s personal choice, and can depend on their specific circumstances, goals, and experiences with substance use. 

Pros of Cali Sober

Proponents of California sober express that this approach is not as limiting as going sober sober, which makes it easier for people to deal with. Since California sober’s meaning is based on the individual person and their preferences, one is able to choose what they feel is the right balance for themselves. Additionally, substituting marijuana for alcohol use allows individuals to unwind without experiencing the hangover symptoms of alcohol or other unpleasant withdrawal effects such as alcohol insomnia. For some, California sober is viewed as a middle path between abstinence and addiction.

Cons of California Sober

Critics propose that those who choose California sobriety are hoping for the lesser of two evils. They realize that substance abuse is not ideal, but since they can’t kick the habit entirely, they will decide which substance seems least harmful and decide on a given amount or frequency to use. Therefore, Cali sober is not a solution to addiction as much as it is essentially substituting one addictive substance for another. 

Furthermore, critics of this approach hold that the guidelines that determine California sobriety are too broad. Many people with addictions will have trouble maintaining the new arbitrary rules they set for themselves and are far more likely to fare better with full abstinence.

The problem with this approach is that once an individual decides that alcohol or marijuana are safer than opiates, for example, their final decision will most likely be based on what the addict thinks is best for them, with no medical backing per se. Given an addict’s history of struggling with moderation, deciding for themselves to use one substance over another (even if they hope to use it in moderation) could backfire since moderation wasn’t their strong point to begin with. Even with the best of intentions, although one may not intend to consume more than a small amount, if they have a hard time controlling themselves, starting with “moderation” may lead to consuming a lot more than planned.

Another issue with the California sober approach is that since the individual is still using to some extent, they are likely to be in situations where others are using more powerful substances in larger amounts. This can be a major addiction trigger for the individual and can lead him to using more than he intended.

Negative Effects of Marijuana

There is a common myth that marijuana addiction is not dangerous at all and is safer than alcohol. This is not true! Some of the possible negative effects of smoking marijuana include:

  • Decreased focus and ability to stay on task
  • Decreased motivation to complete tasks
  • Increased anxiety and depression
  • Lung damage (chronic bronchitis)
  • Risk of addiction and severe withdrawal symptoms
  • Slow reaction time

Marijuana use is not legalized in all states. It’s imperative to check out the weed legal states if considering California sobriety as a possibility in your state.

Is California Sobriety The Best Approach For You?

Here are some questions for you to ask yourself to determine if California sobriety is right for you:

1. Can I switch from opiates to alcohol or marijuana use easily? Or do I experience withdrawal symptoms and cravings when not using opiates or alcohol?

2. Can I limit my number of daily drinks or joints without the help of a friend? Or is it hard to stop using/drinking once I start?

4. Can I focus on my schoolwork or maintain my job if I only smoke marijuana or use alcohol?

Understanding yourself and your nature will help you determine if going Cali sober is a worthwhile approach. When answering these questions, it is extremely important to be honest with yourself. Furthermore, sometimes you won’t know the answer until you are placed in that situation.

California Sober vs. Sober Sober: What Research Suggests

In a study on the correlation between opioid withdrawal and marijuana use, marijuana use was not shown to be harmful to those recovering from opioid use and it was possibly helpful in alleviating the opioid withdrawal symptoms [1]. However, they still experienced the typical side effects of marijuana which include lack of motivation and slowed thinking.

Nevertheless, people who stay completely sober for a long period of time are less likely to relapse than those who use some drugs occasionally [2]. Therefore, one can propose that the California sober approach, which is really only a semi-sober approach, could lead an addict right back to addiction.

Demi Lovato and California Sobriety

Demi Lovato, a popular singer, initially supported California sober after a near-death experience resulting from an opioid overdose in July 2018. At that time she was quoted as saying: “I think the term that I best identify with is ‘California sober.’ 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. 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.” However, in December 2018, Ms. Lovato posted on Instagram that she disavowed her California sober ways and that “sober sober is the only way to be.”

Learn more about celebrities who died from overdose

Drug Addiction Treatment at Avenues Recovery

Although it is challenging, achieving sobriety is one of the most rewarding experiences. At Avenues Recovery, we offer a variety of treatment programs and resources to help you let go of your addiction. If you or a loved one is struggling with substance addiction, reach out to Avenues Recovery  today. Our skilled admissions representatives will explain your options and guide you on the best next steps to recovery. Start your journey home, a brighter sober future is well within your reach!




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