What does California Sober mean?

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Updated 11/10/2022

California Sober vs. Sober

In short, being sober means living without alcohol or drug use. Being sober is a step beyond abstinence, the refrain from substance use, because it is considered a lifestyle that includes other components of recovery.

Being “California sober,” on the other hand, refers to semi-sobriety. It can mean either using alcohol and marijuana in moderation or as a replacement for harder drugs like heroin, cocaine, and methamphetamine. Despite being a popular sobriety trend in recent years, being California sober can lead to an alcohol use disorder or marijuana use disorder.

What Is California Sober? 

California sober is a slang term used to describe a form of semi-sobriety. People who are “California sober” aim to either reduce their substance use or replace their use of “harder” substances like opioids with “safer” alternatives like alcohol and marijuana. For example, a California sober person might use alcohol and marijuana but abstain from methamphetamine. Another person who is California sober might continue to drink moderately after undergoing treatment for alcohol abuse. Because it is a colloquial phrase, being California sober is not medically recognized or endorsed.

Does Being California Sober Work? 

While people might claim that California sobriety works for them, it is dangerous for someone with a history of substance abuse. Since the phrase is so malleable, what being California sober means to one person could differ for someone else. Its ambiguity makes it difficult to establish clear boundaries and objectively monitor one’s substance use. Someone with a history of addiction might find it challenging to use alcohol and marijuana in moderation. This can lead to not only alcohol or marijuana abuse but can also trigger a relapse. 

Regularly using alcohol and marijuana can place someone in environments with heavy drinking or drug use. In addition, alcohol and marijuana both reduce inhibitions and impair decision-making. These effects, combined with a triggering environment, are a recipe for potential drug relapse. Research shows, for example, that any alcohol use increases relapse rates in people recovering from drug addiction. 

Risks of Being California Sober

Being California sober can be a slippery slope for someone with a history of addiction. There are risks involved, including:

  • Increased chance of developing an alcohol use disorder or marijuana use disorder
  • Increased chance of drug relapse 
  • Increased chance of being in situations where drug use is present
  • Interference with long-term recovery 

Is Marijuana a Safe Alternative to Alcohol? 

Marijuana is not necessarily a safer alternative to alcohol. Chronic marijuana use has potentially adverse effects, including mental health issues, poor cognitive function, fatigue, and withdrawal. If someone’s California sober lifestyle consists of smoking regularly, it can lead to a marijuana use disorder that interferes with their life. Research shows that up to 30% of marijuana users will develop a marijuana use disorder. Smoking marijuana may also make someone more likely to say yes to alcohol or other drugs. 

Side Effects of Marijuana 

There are common misconceptions that marijuana isn’t addictive and has no negative adverse effects. Chronic marijuana use can cause a variety of side effects, including

  • Drowsiness
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Difficulty with balance and coordination 
  • Problems with memory 
  • Increased heart rate
  • Increased chance of anxiety and depression 
  • Irritability 

Moderation vs. Abstinence 

Drinking in moderation means keeping alcohol consumption within limits proposed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. For men, this means having two drinks or less per day. For women, the standard is one drink or less per day. The U.S. Department of Health generally advises drinking a minimal amount of alcohol or practicing abstinence. Abstinence means refraining from drinking alcohol entirely. 

For some people in recovery, drinking in moderation might seem like a more reasonable goal than abstinence. However, abstinence is the most effective path to recovery, especially when it comes to alcohol addiction. Research shows that more prolonged periods of traditional sobriety are linked to reduced relapse rates for people with an addiction to alcohol. Even with the best intentions, it can be difficult or even impossible to drink moderately when struggling with an alcohol use disorder. In these cases, abstinence is the best option.

Drugs and Alcohol Addiction Treatment Center in Columbus, OH

At The Recovery Village Columbus, we provide personalized treatment options for drug and alcohol addiction in a safe, supportive environment. Our facility’s dual-diagnosis programs offer medical care and counseling to treat substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions holistically. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol or marijuana abuse, The Recovery Village Columbus can help.

View Sources

National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. “Drinking Levels Defined.” Accessed August 7, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Is Marijuana Addictive?” July 2020. Accessed August 7, 2022.

National Institute on Drug Abuse. “Commonly Used Drug Charts.” August 20, 2020. Accessed August 9, 2022.

Sliedrecht, Wilco; de Waart, Ranne; Witkiewitz, Katie; Roozen, Hendrik G. “Alcohol use disorder relapse factors: A systematic review.” Elsevier, August 2019. Accessed August 7, 2022.

Staiger, Petra K; Richardson, Ben; Long, Caroline M; Carr, Victoria; Marlatt, Alan G. “Overlooked and underestimated? Problematic alcohol use in clients recovering from drug dependence.” Addiction, July 2013. Accessed August 7, 2022.

Williams, Katie. “Demi Lovato, Now ‘Sober Sober,’ No Longer Endorses Being ‘California Sober’.” Everyday Health, December 17, 2021. Accessed August 7, 2022.

Cleveland Clinic. “What is California Sober?” October 18, 2021. Accessed August 13, 2022.

Merriam-Webster.com. “Sobriety.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, 2022. Accessed August 13, 2022.

Pawlowski, A. “What is ‘California Sober’? Demi Lovato’s Recovery Prompts Curiosity, Criticism.” NBC Los Angeles, April 1, 2021.

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