In a candid new docuseries, Demi Lovato discusses her overdose, mental health, and experiences of sexual assault. Lovato’s experience sheds light on some common assumptions and overlooked issues around drug use that can make it more difficult for people struggling with substance use to get the care they need. Here are a few important takeaways from Lovato’s story.
Many people who use opioids also use other drugs.
Lovato’s 2018 relapse occurred after six years of sobriety, and she experienced an overdose a few months later, she explained in the docuseries Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil, which premiered this week at SXSW and will launch on March 23 on YouTube. Because the overdose was treated initially with naloxone, a drug that can reverse opioid overdoses, many people assumed that she had used opioids.
But in the weeks before Lovato’s overdose, she was using multiple substances, she said, per ET Online. The night she relapsed, she recalls having a bottle of red wine before experimenting with several drugs she’d never tried before. “I’d never done meth before, I tried meth. I mixed it with molly, with coke, weed, alcohol, OxyContin. And that alone should have killed me,” she said. Two weeks later, she said, she tried heroin and crack cocaine. The night she overdosed, Lovato said she took OxyContin that she now believes also contained fentanyl, another synthetic opioid.
The majority of opioid-related overdoses actually involve more than one drug—and some combinations can be particularly dangerous. As the rate of overdoses involving opioids increased sharply between 2010 and 2016, so did the rate of opioid overdoses involving more than one substance, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say. In fact, nearly 80% of overdoses related to synthetic opioids (which does not include heroin) in 2016 involved more than one drug, such as alcohol, benzodiazepines, cocaine, other opioids, or antidepressants. So referring to the overdose crisis as simply the “opioid crisis” or “opioid epidemic” overlooks this crucial point about how people actually use drugs.
Treatment, recovery, and sobriety may look different for everyone.
In the documentary, Lovato goes on to say that although she no longer uses some drugs, complete sobriety is not right for her at this moment—and she does still drink and use cannabis in moderation. “I know I’m done with the stuff that’s going to kill me,” she said. “Telling myself that I can never have a drink or smoke marijuana, I feel like that’s setting myself up for failure because I am such a black-and-white thinker. I had it drilled into my head for so many years that one drink was equivalent to a crack pipe.”
But Lovato says she doesn’t want “people to hear that and think that they can go out and try having a drink or smoking a joint… because it isn’t for everybody,” she said. Lovato also revealed in the documentary that she’s taken Vivitrol (extended-release naltrexone), an injectable medication that can be used as part of addiction treatment and may help prevent relapses in some people.
“Recovery isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. You shouldn’t be forced to get sober if you’re not ready,” she explains. “You shouldn’t get sober for other people. You have to do it for yourself.”
Using drugs is not necessarily a sign that someone wants to die.
Previously, Lovato spoke about how her drug use, as destructive as it could be, was not an indication that she wanted to die. In fact, she said her drug use helped her in some significant ways.
“In the same way [drug use] almost killed me, it saved my life at times, because there were times that I dealt with suicidal ideations,” she said in an episode of the podcast Yeah No, I’m Not OK. “And had I gone forward with that in that moment, instead of [using] another destructive coping mechanism, I wouldn’t be here to tell my story.”
But the stigma around some coping mechanisms, such as drug use, makes it difficult for people to seek help, learn less damaging options, or reduce the harms associated with those behaviors, SELF explained previously.
Ultimately, drug use and overdoses are often much more complex than we realize. Lovato’s experience makes it clear that, even for those in the public eye, we often don’t know the full picture of what’s going on in someone else’s life. And, when it comes to substance use, recovery can be a particularly long road with plenty of ups and downs. The best way to help those with substance use issues like Lovato’s is to provide easy access to compassionate, individualized care—without judgment.
If you’re thinking about hurting yourself or just need someone to talk to right now, you can get support by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or by texting HOME to 741-741, the Crisis Text Line. And here is a list of international suicide helplines if you’re outside the United States.
If you’re struggling with drug use or addiction, you can call the SAMHSA National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357) to get referrals to local treatment facilities, support groups, and community-based organizations.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Demi Lovato had been sober for six months before her 2018 relapse. She had actually been sober for six years at that time.
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