Even if you aren’t a California local, you may have heard of the term “Cali-sober.” This term is used to define a person that is sober from alcohol and other drugs, with the exception of cannabis. This article discusses the problems of Cali-sober, why it’s dangerous for people working to heal from addiction, and why total sobriety may be the best option for effective recovery.

What Is Cali-Sober?

Cali-sober refers to the practice of abstaining from substance use with the exception of cannabis. In some cases, people may identify as Cali-sober but still moderately drink alcohol or use seemingly less addictive drugs, such as psychedelics. The Cali-sober approach to substance use rose in popularity in 2020, reaching its pinnacle when Demi Lovato released her hit single “California Sober” in April 2021. Naturally, much of the recovery community disagreed with the new movement, seeing it as problematic and inaccurate to how addiction affects the mind and body.

In some communities, Cali-sober is viewed as a form of harm reduction. Harm reduction is a policy that focuses on lessening the negative consequences of behaviors. Harm reduction is often used in the context of addiction activism and includes strategies such as offering safe injection sites for those with heroin addiction. While in theory, it may seem helpful to choose “softer” substances in place of harder ones, all substance use comes with its own set of unique consequences and concerns.

The Moderation vs. Total Abstinence Debate

The controversial term Cali-sober is a part of an age-long, two-sided debate in the addiction recovery community. One side believes in the traditional, total abstinence approach as being the only effective way to recover from addiction. The other side believes that it’s possible to control the consequences of addiction by limiting substance use in moderation.

While those who support the substance-use-in-moderation approach may have seen success, the inevitable truth is that it can be dangerous for those who are in recovery. Those who support abstinence-only approaches to recovery believe that continuing any form of substance use cannot fix the problem or treat the addiction. A person who is in recovery can easily lose control of their substance use once again, which can be especially dangerous if the substance they are inclined to use can lead to overdose.

The Problem of Cali-Sober

One major issue with the Cali-sober approach is that it underestimates the severity of consequences that can result from using substances such as alcohol, cannabis, and psychedelics. There is still a myth that cannabis itself isn’t actually addictive and that people only say that as a way to villainize the drug. Although cannabis addiction has been overblown in the past as a way to push a political narrative, that doesn’t mean that cannabis is not addictive. Similarly, alcohol tends to fly under the radar as a potentially dangerous substance since it is normalized and glorified in society. Still, alcohol consumption can contribute to a plethora of negative health effects as well as deadly withdrawal symptoms.

Psychedelics, which are on the verge of legalization on the West Coast, are next in line to be underestimated as a potentially dangerous class of drugs. While psychedelics do not necessarily contain withdrawal symptoms as dangerous as alcohol, this class of drug paints a distorted reality for users. Psychedelics affect the brain by releasing surplus dopamine and serotonin, which the brain recognizes as pleasurable. These surges of neurotransmitters can be addictive because your brain is wired to seek out pleasurable experiences repeatedly. Even though these drugs are being researched for their potential value in psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, they are dangerous substances that should not be used recreationally.

Trading One Addiction for Another

Another consideration that is neglected alongside the Cali-sober movement is that people in recovery are known to trade one addiction for another. While an individual in recovery might no longer use “hard” drugs like meth or cocaine, their brains are still wired to seek out drug use. Their brains are still chasing that high and avoiding the uncomfortable symptoms that they will likely face if they submit to total sobriety. This can manifest in cases where a person might trade substance use with overeating, spending too much time on social media, or playing too many video games. However, if a person chooses to use cannabis or alcohol in place of a harder drug, they are still replacing one addiction with another.

Replacing substance use also postpones individuals from receiving the support needed to treat the underlying cause of their use. Treatment and sobriety allow a person with an addiction to discover healthier ways of coping with difficult feelings, stress, or boredom. With total abstinence, the underlying problem is addressed instead of avoided. Instead of choosing to smoke cannabis as a way to let go of stress, a person can instead learn how to cope with stress through mindfulness, relaxation, and taking care of their body’s needs.

Cali-Sober Isn’t a Medical Term

There isn’t a scientific basis for the trend of Cali-sober. It isn’t sound medical advice. Most research says that substance use, especially severe substance use, completely rewires your brain and how it processes dopamine. When you quit a substance, your body also goes through withdrawal, with some symptoms lasting for months or even years.

Cali-sober is a term that describes the practice of abstaining from substance use, with the exception of cannabis. Sometimes, this term is also used to describe the exception of moderate alcohol use or the use of psychedelic drugs. Although it may seem helpful to replace hard drug use with seemingly-less addictive drugs like marijuana, all substance use is problematic and can contribute to a wide range of consequences. Recovery from substance use and addiction should take on an abstinence-only approach because it takes a lifetime to reverse the damage caused by chronic substance use. Bella Monte Recovery Center is a treatment center that recognizes the value of abstinence-only approaches. We are committed to treating the underlying cause of our client’s substance use rather than solely advising sobriety. To learn more about our treatment programs, call us today at (800) 974-1938.