There’s a trend floating around now called California Sober; most commonly, California Sober means abstaining from all substances except marijuana, though the definition sometimes includes psychedelics like LSD, ayahuasca and psilocybin. Still others, like Demi Lovato, choose to drink in moderation as well.  The trend has generated a bit of a following from the Moderation Management group, who believe that this is a healthier, moderate approach to substance use.  

Others, who have struggled with a substance use disorder, understand that the disease of addiction or alcoholism is devastating and deadly.  Ken Seeley, a registered addiction specialist and founder of the Ken Seeley Communities in Palm Springs, California, told Entertainment Tonight, “I think the term ‘California Sober’ is quite disrespectful to the sober community.”  He continued, “I know a lot of people that work really hard to hold their abstinence and fight for their lives in recovery, and to bring up this new term, ‘California sober,’ is so inappropriate.”

I agree with Mr. Seeley.  It is one thing to use a medication as part of a recovery plan, such as methadone (which does not produce the ‘high’ of other opioids); it is quite another to deliberately continue chasing the ‘high’ with other substances.  It is a dangerous and potentially lethal choice.  Not only do you put yourself at risk, you are placing your need to escape above your family, friends and the public should you choose to drive.  

In 1994, Audrey Kishline founded the first moderation management mutual aid support group. (“Moderation Management” is an approach that seeks to reduce dangers posed by risky behavior through management of those behaviors, rather than abstinence.) Kishline identified herself as a “problem drinker”—not an alcoholic per se—said in an interview with Dateline, “Of course, after I had been there (rehab) for about a month, I said, ‘There’s no way I’m as bad as these people. They’ve lost their homes, their jobs, their this and their that. I’m not that bad. I’ve been mislabeled.’”  In 2000, she drove from her home outside Seattle to her father’s home in Spokane,  Kishline drove her truck the wrong way down an interstate in Washington State. She hit another vehicle head-on, killing both the driver and young passenger in the other car – Richard “Danny” Davis, 38, and his twelve year old daughter LaShell.  Kishline’s blood alcohol content was 0.26 – more than three times the legal limit, and she admitted to “driving a hundred miles an hour in a total blackout,” causing vehicular manslaughter.

If you have a substance use disorder, you – your brain –  has been changed forever on a cellular level.  It cannot be ‘undone’.  The good news is that recovery is possible, help is available on all levels, cost is not a barrier  to a life free from alcohol and drugs.  But what those of us who are in recovery know, without any doubts, is that abstinence from all drugs and alcohol is essential.  It is the one and only component of recovery that is absolute.  Continuing to use psychoactive substances (substances that affect how the brain works and causes changes in mood, awareness, thoughts, feelings, or behavior)  through seeking and getting the ‘high’ is not recovery.  It might be harm reduction, such as what Demi Lovato practices, but it is not recovery. 

Recovery from alcohol and drug use is not easy-it requires attention to self and deep introspection, and making changes and commitments  to yourself.  For many of us, it is a daily reaffirmation to yourself to live this day to the best of your ability without choosing substances.  It means facing and living your life on life’s terms.  It is beautiful, difficult or painful at times,  but the ability to remain present and aware is the gift.  Those who choose to ‘drink or smoke in moderation’ after they have been diagnosed with a substance use disorder have descended onto a slippery slope.  They might not be using the drug that created the consequences that brought them into their recovery, but any psychoactive substance that causes impairment still hits all those brain areas that the offending drug did.  Call it a gateway back to the favored drug, call it a replacement, it doesn’t matter.  They are no longer sober.  They are no longer in recovery.  

California Sober isn’t sober, it  is an excuse to keep getting high, to escape our human-ness.  Call it a relapse.  Call it harm reduction.  But don’t dare call it what so many have worked so hard for.  California Sober is like the ‘California Stop’-not really a stop at all-only a slow down.   

As always, my hopes are for your hopes and dreams…..T