In defense of being ‘Cali sober’ (2023)

First Opinion

By Peter GrinspoonMay 30, 2023


In defense of being ‘Cali sober’ (1)

The phenomenon of being “Cali sober” is taking the recovery world by storm. It is defined as dedicating oneself to a life free of drugs and alcohol — except for cannabis and other psychedelics. (Though many consumers don’t think of cannabis as a psychedelic, policy experts often consider it one because of its effects.)

Hardcore proponents of abstinence-based recovery, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, dismiss the Cali sober approach as dangerous and “not really recovery.” Those who make their livings by treating addiction the traditional ways, such as addiction specialists and representatives of our country’s sprawling rehab industry, also dismiss the idea. For example, the Cleveland Clinic maintains a blanket ban on physicians certifying patients for medical cannabis for any condition (even though medical cannabis is legal in Ohio). One of their addiction psychiatrists told the clinic’s website, “After all, you’re not sober if you’re still using mind-altering substances. You’re replacing one addictive substance with another. It’s a slippery slope.”


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But the slippery slope holds no water. I am 15 years into recovery from a vicious addiction to prescription opioids. I’m also a physician and have had the privilege of treating thousands of patients for substance use disorders, ranging from doctors surreptitiously snorting oxycodone to people living on the streets. Through these experiences, I’ve given a great deal of thought to the issues surrounding what predisposes one to addiction, what constitutes an addiction, how we get addicted, and how we recover. The best definition of addiction that I’ve heard, to date, is a simple one, “continued use, despite negative consequences.”

Yet this definition raises some crucial questions: Continued use of what? All drugs, or just the one(s) that derailed your life? For how long? For life?

Related:How the drug industry uses fear of fentanyl to extract more profit from naloxone

For nearly a century, the recovery community has largely followed a line from Alcoholics Anonymous: that recovery means abstinence from all drugs and alcohol, completely and forever (except, of course, for tobacco and caffeine, which are considered “good drugs” and are freely allowed at 12-step meetings).


Unfortunately, this binary and ideological approach has an extremely low success rate — by one estimate, 5%-10% for AA. Its rigidity alienates many and is mainly based on historical tradition rather than science. It has very little to do with our modern understanding of addiction, the new treatments we are developing, or the realities that our understandings and treatments of addiction have greatly evolved since the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous was written in 1939.

It’s time to update that thinking. It isn’t cheating to use medicines or other substances to maintain recovery. In fact, anyone who wants to enter and stay in recovery mainly must find a way to eschew the continued use of the specific drug that derailed your life in a way that is causing ongoing distress.

My definition is more consistent with current scientific thinking about recovery, which includes the use of modern, lifesaving medications that help people overcome the biological components of their addictions. My definition is also more inclusive, and humane. Offering a bigger recovery tent allows more people to feel welcome and safe. This can save lives.

There is no firm scientific basis for the “abstinence only” models of recovery, which have engendered generations of slogans and platitudes that people like me have had to repeat over and over, when forced into rehab, as I was for 90 days. We sat in a group and chanted, “one is too many and a thousand is never enough” as a totem against future drug and alcohol use. This experience, to me, was so boring and mindless; it was enough to make you want to use drugs again.

Moreover, this approach is about as far away from science as one can get on planet Earth. The most convincing study I found,published inJAMAin 2014showed the opposite:

(Video) Jordan Peterson on Alcoholics Anonymous

“As compared with those who do not recover from an SUD [substance use disorder], people who recover have less than half the risk of developing a new SUD. Contrary to clinical lore, achieving remission does not typically lead to drug substitution, but rather is associated with a lower risk of new SUD onset.”

In other words, the tools, insight, and experiences you gain from the process of getting into recovery from one addiction can be protective against other addictions, so one may be at less risk with a different drug than an addiction naive person might be. None of this is definitively settled, but it is intriguing and certainly is consistent with the use of alternative treatments — such as cannabis and psychedelics — to maintain and support one’s recovery.

It is important to state that 12-step programs are quite effective for a self-selected group of people who enjoy these meetings, who relate to them culturally, and who find them invaluable to sustain their recoveries. If someone chooses abstinence, and it works for them, that is something to be supported and celebrated. Yet, there is no rationale or evidence to impose this model on all people seeking recovery.

The first public challenge to abstinence-only recovery paradigms came with widespread adoption of methadone and Suboxone (buprenorphine) to treat opioid use disorder. In short order, stories started filtering out about people being hassled at 12-step meetings for using Suboxone or methadone. People were told at recovery meetings, “you aren’t really in recovery if you are taking methadone/Suboxone – you’re just swapping one drug for another.” I’ve seen people say things along these lines at Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Yet the clinical utilization of Suboxone and methadone results in a 50% reduction in both overdosages and death from overdose. Recovery has to be about the outcomes and about saving and improving lives.

What happens when you go a step further, beyond Suboxone and methadone, and not only challenge the abstinence-only model, but challenge it with medicines/drugs that have been deliberately stigmatized by the war on drugs, such as cannabis and other psychedelics? To many 12-steppers and addiction psychiatrists, the inclusion of cannabis — a “bad” drug — in any talk of “recovery” from addiction is heresy. It bucks against the decades of inaccurate messaging we’ve been given that cannabis is highly addictive and extremely dangerous. It can be difficult for them to understand the idea of Cali sober because many don’t have lived or clinical experience treating people with cannabis, and don’t have a realistic, nuanced view of the relative benefits and harms of cannabis use. They have only been exposed to magnified versions of the harm and have been shielded from discussions of benefits.

We are in the process of a vast societal reevaluation of the relative benefits and harms of cannabis, with public acceptance of both medical and recreational use growing yearly. Using medicinal cannabis to transition away from more dangerous drugs, such as alcohol or heroin, is an increasingly popular and accepted form of harm reduction. I have had tremendous success in my clinical practice transitioning people from both medicinal opioids and alcohol to cannabis. I find cannabis to be particularly efficacious, because it can help treat or palliate many of the symptoms that may have helped incite and fuel the addiction to these other drugs in the first place, such as anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and trauma.

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It is important to note that cannabis certainly is not without its own set of harms. Cannabis use is best avoided by teenagers (due to the concern about the health of their developing brains), by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding (due to concerns about effects on the fetus/newborn), before driving, or in patients with a personal or family history of psychosis (as cannabis can destabilize these patients). But the best way to prevent use by people who are at risk is careful regulation and education rather than through criminalization, which drives drug use underground and makes it, on the whole, vastly more dangerous.

In no particular order, the critical components of a healthy, stable recovery from addiction are insight, humility, connection, mindfulness, and gratitude. As we focus on the present, connect with others, and approach the world with kindness and humility, we are happier and stronger, and this leaves much less room for the drugs to settle back in.

These are exactly the traits within us that cannabis helps foster, which is why it so powerfully aligns with the personal recovery plans of so many recovering people. To quote the astronomer Carl Sagan, the smartest person I’ve ever met to date (and longtime friend of my father, an academic who was early to challenge popular myths about cannabis):

“The illegality of cannabis is outrageous, an impediment to full utilization of a drug which helps produce the serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship so desperately needed in this increasingly mad and dangerous world.”


Related:Psilocybin shows promise for treating alcohol addiction, new study finds

It’s notable this language so thoroughly overlaps the language in the 12-step programs, which are fundamentally based on “serenity and insight, sensitivity and fellowship.”

If people have surmounted their addictions and are back to work, healthy, and living fulfilling, meaningful lives, what does it matter if they are abstinent, on cannabis, using Suboxone, or microdosing with psychedelics? One may yearn for a perfect world in which we would all do yoga, eat tofu, and meditate, where no one feels the need to rely on a drug or a substance to help get us through the day. Yet, there are very few, if any, societies that have existed without the use of one psychoactive drug or another.

Addiction is a deadly consequence of an ugly confluence of distress and drug use that needs to be addressed with empathy, compassion, and evidence, not with judgment, stigma, and adherence to old beliefs that aren’t borne out by research. Every path out of addition and into safe, stable recovery is unique to the person walking it. But all of us who are recovering from addiction nourish and support one another, not to be divided along lines of rigid approaches and inflexible ideologies.

Peter Grinspoon, M.D., is a primary care physician and a cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital and an instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is the author of the new book “Seeing Through the Smoke: A Cannabis Expert Untangles the Truth about Marijuana.”

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Peter Grinspoon


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What is considered California sober? ›

California Sober is a term that has generally referred to abstinence from all drugs, with the exception of marijuana. The thought behind this lifestyle is that drugs such as alcohol, cocaine, heroin, methamphetamines, or opioids cause significantly more damage and increase the likelihood of misuse and abuse.

What are the benefits of Cali sober? ›

Cali sober does have some benefits for the right individual in the right headspace with adequate coping skills and a support system in their life who can help. Harm reduction approaches to addiction can help prevent overdose and drug-related deaths by helping people discover healthy steps forward from their addiction.

Does California sober really work? ›

In most cases, it is incorrect to assume that one way to get sober is better than another, but most recovery specialists agree that “California sober” does not lead to lasting recovery from addiction the way other treatment paths do.

Which actions is the only way to become sober? ›

Allowing the liver enough time to metabolize the alcohol is the only way to remove alcohol from the body. A cold shower, fresh air, exercise, or black coffee will not help sober a person up. Time is the only thing that will remove alcohol from the system (about an hour per standard drink).

What's the difference between California sober and sober sober? ›

Others may define California sober as drinking in moderation after undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction. The California sober lifestyle is in contrast to the traditional goal of “sober sober,” in which people in addiction recovery abstain from all substances.

What counts as being sober? ›

Being a sober person means you practice complete abstinence from drugs, alcohol, and other addictive substances. In the short term, it also means you aren't intoxicated or under the influence of any of those substances. If you're in recovery, you're actively taking the steps to address a drinking problem.

What are 5 benefits of being sober? ›

7 Health Benefits of Sobriety
  • Mental Focus and Clarity. Better mental health, in general, is one of the most obvious benefits of being sober. ...
  • Better Sleep Pattern. ...
  • Optimal Health Level. ...
  • Better Skin. ...
  • Better Eating Habits. ...
  • More Energy. ...
  • Holistic Growth.
Jan 5, 2022

Is Cali alcoholic or not? ›

Cali is a sparkling, fruit-flavored, non-alcoholic malt beverage that is available in Pineapple and Apple flavors. It also comes in a low-calorie variant. Prices, availability, and product packaging are subject to change without prior notice.

What kind of drug is Cali? ›

For some, cali has just become a synonym for any good cannabis flower. But actual cali, that's genuinely imported, can often go for anything from £70 to £100 for 3.5g. It's a premium, almost designer product – the Dom Pérignon of weed, let's say.

What is the best sober drink? ›

The 14 Best Drinks for Recovering Alcoholics
  1. Sparkling Water. Sparkling water is the go-to for recovering alcoholics. ...
  2. Coffee. If you love coffee, you know it's the perfect drink for any occasion. ...
  3. Tea. ...
  4. Ginger Ale. ...
  5. Cider. ...
  6. Hot Chocolate. ...
  7. Eggnog. ...
  8. Chile-Lime Pineapple Soda.
Dec 14, 2022

Is alcoholism a protected class in California? ›

For example, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) treats alcoholism as a disability. FEHA defines disability to include impairments that limit the ability to work. The ADA has a higher standard, requiring that a disability substantially limit an individual's ability to work.

How many people can live in a sober living home in California? ›

Other than occupancy restrictions applicable to all residential uses, there is no limit under federal law or California law on the number of persons who may live in a large sober living home. unlicensed “alcoholism or drug abuse recovery or treatment facility” is illegal under California law.

What are the three principles of sobriety? ›

Your recovery is made up of many different things. Three things that you should be focusing on today, and every day, are patience, balance, and growth. These three things are vital for your mental health and addiction recovery.

Does drinking water with alcohol help liver? ›

If you are drinking alcohol, ensure you drink plenty of water too—just alternate drinks. This will allow your liver to better process the alcohol and reduce damage.

How do you remove alcohol from your body? ›

More than 90% of alcohol is eliminated by the liver; 2-5% is excreted unchanged in urine, sweat, or breath. The first step in metabolism is oxidation by alcohol dehydrogenases, of which at least four isoenzymes exist, to acetaldehyde in the presence of cofactors.

Can you be sober and still have fun? ›

Staying away from alcohol or drugs can be tough. However, being sober doesn't mean you have to stop having fun. There are plenty of activities you can do that don't involve substances and can actually be more enjoyable without them.

Why is it called Cali sober? ›

Cali sober promotes cutting out certain addictive substances and replacing them with alternatives that, in theory, are less harmful. Some people call themselves California sober because they use marijuana in place of alcohol and other addictive substances.

What is the new sober trend? ›

Being 'Sober Curious' is a term that refers to a growing trend of people who are choosing either to take a break from alcohol for a short period of time or even permanently. It's describing people who are curious about experimenting with different levels of 'being sober'.

What is the first rule of sobriety? ›

Rule 1: Change Your Life

Recovery involves creating a new life in which it is easier to not use. When individuals do not change their lives, then all the factors that contributed to their addiction will eventually catch up with them.

How many hours before you are sober? ›

This translates to reducing a person's BAC level by 0.015 per hour. However, many factors, such as gender, medications, and health, can affect intoxication and cause BAC to rise quicker and fall slower. If a person with a BAC level of 0.08 stops drinking, it will take roughly 6 hours for them to sober up.

Is sobriety more than just not drinking? ›

It's about a reorientation of life. Living Sober is more than just not drinking – it's about finding a new sense of hope and purpose in life, new practises, and new sources of enjoyment in a community that shares your outlook on life.

What does a month off alcohol do? ›

Summary. Across the month, your body is likely to have benefitted greatly from giving up alcohol. Better hydration and improved sleep will have increased your productivity and daily wellbeing. Your liver, stomach and skin will also have benefitted from not dealing with alcohol.

What happens to your body 5 days sober? ›

When you are 5 days sober, one of the main symptoms that you might be having is alcohol cravings. One of the major reasons why people relapse when in alcohol addiction recovery is due to the moderate to severe cravings they are having. Some mild cravings can even cause a person to relapse.

Why sober life is the best life? ›

A sober life allows you to cultivate a deep and meaningful relationship with yourself. You learn new skills, interests, and learn just how much you can overcome when you put your mind to it. This is one of the most beautiful things a sober life can offer you.

What is clean sobriety in California? ›

People who are “California sober,” also known as “Cali sober,” either moderately use or forgo alcohol and “hard” drugs. A few examples of “hard drugs” are Heroin, Cocaine, and crystal Methamphetamine. Instead, they use “soft” drugs like Marijuana, LSD, or Psilocybin.

Can kids drink Cali? ›

Except as provided in Section 25667, any person under the age of 21 years who purchases any alcoholic beverage, or any person under the age of 21 years who consumes any alcoholic beverage in any on-sale premises, is guilty of a misdemeanor.

What is semi Sober? ›

Semi-sobriety encourages people to be more intentional with their sips, drinking how much and when they want to for the sake of their health, goals and lifestyle — in essence, to exert a little control over something that often makes people out of control.

What is Cali slang for? ›

“Cali” is the abbreviation used for California that only non-natives use. Not only do local Californians never use this slang, it actually rubs them the wrong way.

What is sunshine in drug slang? ›

black star - LSD. black stuff - Heroin; opium. black sunshine - LSD.

What does P mean in drug slang? ›

In drugs-related chat, P means "Methamphetamine." P. Definition: Methamphetamine.

What can give you a buzz besides alcohol? ›

- Caffeinated Energy Drinks: Caffeinated energy drinks are some of the most popular functional drinks on the market. They are packed with caffeine and other stimulants, which can give you a quick buzz.

What alcohol makes you the best happy? ›

The people we polled said that certain forms of alcohol were more likely to give them different feelings. Men told us that wine, cocktails, and India pale ales (IPAs) made them happiest when they drank, while women said that cocktails, wine, and vodka left them with the most positive emotions.

What alcohol is good to drink all day? ›

Red wine, whiskey, tequila, and hard kombucha are healthier options than beer and sugary drinks. The CDC recommends you limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day if you're male and 1 if you're female.
Research shows that red wine is associated with improving:
  • Cardiovascular health.
  • Bone density.
  • Brain health.
Mar 24, 2021

Is being on Suboxone a disability? ›

A person who has a legally prescribed medication to treat their substance use disorder (such as Suboxone, Methadone, or Vivitrol etc.), and is no longer engaging in the illegal use of drugs is a person with a disability and is protected by the ADA.

Can you get SSI for alcoholism? ›

Years ago, you could qualify for Social Security disability benefits if you were an alcoholic. In 1996, Congress changed the rules. Since then, alcohol addiction has actually become a hurdle to obtaining disability benefits. In a nutshell, you can't get Social Security disability benefits based on alcoholism.

Can an employer fire you for being an alcoholic? ›

Alcoholism is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which means you can't be fired for disclosing alcohol issues or going to treatment to get help. On the other hand, you can very easily get fired if alcohol impairment interferes with your job performance or causes safety issues in the workplace.

Where do the most Sober people live? ›

Top 7 Best Cities To Live In If You're Sober
  • Delray Beach, FL. If you're looking for a beachside community, Delray Beach might be just the place for you! ...
  • Minneapolis, MN. Have you ever heard of people referring to Minnesota as Minnesober? ...
  • New York City, NY. ...
  • San Diego, CA. ...
  • Houston, TX. ...
  • Los Angeles, CA. ...
  • Boston, MA.
Jan 5, 2022

What is another name for sober living homes? ›

Sober living houses (SLHs), also called sober homes and sober living environments, are facilities that provide safe housing and supportive, structured living conditions for people exiting drug rehabilitation programs.

Does California have halfway houses? ›

A Halfway house California can help find new employment for an individual, the re-enrolment of an individual in a class or even assist in sitting an affiliate career goal. Most halfway houses are usually set up with a program that benefits the resident directly in terms of reintegrating into society.

What are the 4 absolutes alcoholics? ›

What are the 4 Absolutes
  • Honesty.
  • Unselfishness.
  • Purity.
  • Love.
Dec 21, 2020

What is the 1 3 rule in alcoholism? ›

The formula was 0-0-1-3, which meant zero drinks if underage, zero drinks if driving, no more than one standard drink per hour, and no more than three drinks per occasion.

What are the 3 P's of recovery? ›

In eating disorder recovery it is essential to focus on the three P's: Passion, Power and Purpose.

What alcohol is easiest on liver? ›

Take a look at this list of the least-damaging alcoholic drinks from Legends at White Oak to help you drink consciously.
  • Red Wine. ...
  • Light Beer. ...
  • Tequila. ...
  • Gin & Rum & Vodka & Whiskey.
Mar 7, 2021

What is the fastest way to eliminate alcohol? ›

Can You Speed Up This Process? Once alcohol is in the bloodstream, it can only be eliminated by the enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase, sweat, urine, and breath. Drinking water and sleeping will not speed up the process. Coffee, energy drinks, and a cold shower will not sober you up faster.

Will my liver heal if I quit drinking? ›

If you stop drinking alcohol for 2 weeks, your liver should return to normal.

What can I drink to detoxify my body? ›

Well, here are five drinks that can help your body flush out toxins and allow you to make a fresh start:
  • Water. There is no better way to detox than with good-old water! ...
  • Ginger tea. ...
  • Apple-cinnamon water. ...
  • Mint lemonade. ...
  • Pomegranate juice.
Jan 4, 2020

What are the benefits of 40 days no alcohol? ›

Reduced anxiety, better sleep and increased energy and productivity top the list of benefits that participants typically experience, not to mention significant improvement in weight and body composition, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and liver enzymes.

How long does it take for your liver to detox? ›

Your liver can heal minor damage from alcohol in days or weeks. More severe damage could take months to heal. And after a long time, it may be permanent. Give your liver a break by avoiding alcohol at least 2 days in a row each week.

What does California sober mean urban? ›

According to the Urban Dictionary, its meaning is "a form of Harm Reduction that excludes the use of all drugs including alcohol and only utilizing Marijuana in Moderation."

When can you stop serving alcohol in California? ›

Businesses stop selling alcohol at 2 a.m., according to California alcohol laws. Most bars stop serving between 1:30 a.m. and 1:45 a.m. but allow you to finish your drink prior to 2 p.m. Alcoholic beverages cannot be consumed from 6 a.m. – 2 a.m. at licensed liquor establishments.

Can you drink on your break in California? ›

Employers and workers alike should keep in mind that consuming alcohol during meal breaks or at any time during working hours is considered illegal and can result in liability and/or termination.

What color sober means? ›

sober adjective (NOT BRIGHT)

Clothes or colours that are sober are plain and not bright. SMART Vocabulary: related words and phrases. Colourless or causing colour to fade. ashen-faced. bleach.

What is the slang Cali? ›

“Cali” is the abbreviation used for California that only non-natives use. Not only do local Californians never use this slang, it actually rubs them the wrong way.

Is it ok to say cali? ›

“Cali” is an abbreviation of “California” that only non-Californians use. Nearly every other U.S. state calls California “Cali,” but Californians hate this. Avoid using “Cali” if you want to seem like a native Californian. “Rad” was used more frequently by Californians a few years ago, but you may still hear it today.

Can bartenders drink while working in California? ›

Drinking alcohol during your shift, after your shift, or at closing time is not allowed. Drinking on the job impairs your ability to perform your duties. You are more likely to make mistakes in judgment such as serving underage or obviously intoxicated patrons.

What is the new law for bartenders in California? ›

By August 31, 2022, all of them must register with ABC, be trained by an ABC approved Responsible Beverage Service (RBS) Training Provider and pass an ABC exam. Anyone hired after July 1 must pass the exam and be certified 60 days from the first day of employment.

Why do bars close at 2am in LA? ›

Why 2 a.m.? That's just the way it's been in California for the last 80 years, ever since the 21st Amendment ended the national prohibition on alcohol and states were left to set their own laws governing its sale and distribution. California picked 2 a.m. as the appropriate time to stop pouring libations.

Can I skip my lunch break in California? ›

California Rules for Skipping Meal Breaks

If you don't work more than six hours, you can also skip your meal break for any reason. You may legally waive your meal break if you work more than six hours. But you and your employer must agree to it beforehand, preferably in writing.

Is it illegal to drink in front of your house in California? ›

Under California law, BPC 25620, it is an infraction for any person to possess an open container of alcohol in any public place.

Can you smoke on break in California? ›

While on break, your employer cannot stop you from going outside to smoke, outside of certain limited exceptions where employers can require employees to stay on active duty during a rest break. Outside of guaranteed rest breaks, however, employers are not required to accommodate an employee's smoking habit.


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