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What is California Sober?

Written by Elise Cedrone
Published on August 21, 2023

What Does ‘California Sober’ Mean?

Being “California sober” is a slang term that is increasingly being used to describe a form of partial sobriety. It involves abstinence from certain mood-altering substances, and continuing to use others that the individual believes may be potentially less harmful. The majority of those subscribing to this lifestyle choice utilize this term to describe moderate use of marijuana and abstaining from alcohol. Yet for some, this may mean alcohol in moderation as well. In other instances, it involves only using certain drugs such as marijuana and avoiding harder street drugs like cocaine and heroin. 

Most often, people who subscribe to the idea of California sobriety have determined that using marijuana is a safer alternative to harder drugs, as well as alcohol.

The California sober lifestyle contrasts with the traditional goal of “sober-sober,” in which people in addiction recovery abstain from all substances. While the term “sober” can mean different things to different people, being sober traditionally means not ingesting anything that alters the mind or mood. There is no clear definition for California sober or sobriety within medical literature. Sobriety is a non-medical term that is used to describe abstinence from all drugs, including alcohol. The definition of sobriety also varies in addiction recovery spaces.

Is California Sober the Lifestyle Choice for You?

California sobriety appeals to some because it feels less restrictive than traditional full abstinence of substances. But it may not be as harmless as it’s claimed to be. While it may seem like an appealing harm reduction approach, this lifestyle choice can be hazardous to those who have struggled with addiction in the past or those with current substance abuse issues. Whether living California Sober is just a passing new trend or a lifestyle choice that is here to stay, it’s important to weigh the risks and benefits for your personal situation. 

California Sober Can Be a Slippery Slope

The reality is that this approach is not without risk for someone who has a history of addiction. Consider, for instance, the fact that one of the diagnostic criteria for a substance use disorder, which is the clinical term for addiction, is being unable to cut back on drug or alcohol use (NIDA, 2023). If someone sets out to reduce their substance consumption and turn to California sobriety, you may find that you are unable to make choices within moderation.

Those currently suffering from addiction or with a history of addiction should examine their personal path to recovery and proceed with caution. There are risks in choosing to utilize any substances and to switch substances, no matter the strength or your current dependency of it.

In this regard, California sobriety can be a slippery slope, especially for those new to recovery, or for those who have not yet developed strong skills for coping with triggers.

Proceed with Caution and Seek Professional Support

Recovery, and what that looks like is a personal journey that can best be supported by medical and behavioral health treatment professionals. Allowing the use of some but not all substances carries a risk of relapsing on a person’s drug of choice or developing an addiction to another drug.

If a person’s goal is long-term sobriety, a program that holds you accountable to stop using drugs and alcohol is an effective approach. With support systems in place by trusted professionals, those seeking sobriety can address the underlying reason for continued substance use and learn alternative ways to cope without turning to drugs and/or alcohol. The point of recovery is to create a lifestyle in which one does not feel the need to be in an altered state to exist happily in. 

Our team of navigation specialists can help establish a treatment plan that best supports all goals you may have with addiction and recovery. If you or someone you love is seeking support on their sobriety journey, help and hope are available. Call us today.


NIDA. 2023, February 19. The Science of Drug Use and Addiction: The Basics. Retrieved from: https://archives.nida.nih.gov/publications/media-guide/science-drug-use-addiction-basics 

Dekin, Sam. “California Sober vs. Sober Sober: The Consequences of Semi-Sobriety.” Mission Harbor Behavioral Health, 11 Apr. 2022, sbtreatment.com/blog/california-sober-vs-sober-sober-the-consequences-of-semi-sobriety/. Accessed 26 July 2023.

Ramsey MD, Johnelle . “What Is California Sober?” Addiction Resource, 12 Apr. 2021, www.addictionresource.net/blog/california-sober/. 

“What Is California Sober?” Cleveland Clinic, 18 Oct. 2021, health.clevelandclinic.org/what-is-cali-sober/.

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