5 things can we learn from Demi Lovato’s addiction story


BEVERLY HILLS, CALIFORNIA – MARCH 22: Demi Lovato performs onstage during the OBB Premiere Event for YouTube Originals Docuseries “Demi Lovato: Dancing With The Devil” at The Beverly Hilton on March 22, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Rich Fury/Getty Images for OBB Media)

The recently released docuseries Dancing with the Devil gives viewers an up close and personal look at the life of Demi Lovato. Addiction, overdose, eating disorders and sexual assault are just a few of the difficult topics the famous recording artist and actress discusses in the four part look into her life. In a series of interviews, Lovato opens up about her personal struggles with alcoholism, drug addiction and an eating disorder as well as her traumatic experiences surviving sexual assault. Despite the fact that Lovato is a worldwide celebrity, her story rings true for far too many. 

The docuseries connects prior traumatic life experiences and a difficult childhood to the mental health challenges faced by Demi Lovato, addiction among them. Much of the narrative centers around her drug overdose in July of 2018, an event that she just nearly survived and that left her with permanent vision damage. Lovato’s candor and openness provides several lessons to the public on substance use disorders and the challenges that accompany them. Here are five things Dancing with the Devil teaches us about Demi Lovato, addiction, and relapse: 

1. Addiction can be a response to trauma

Using drugs and alcohol to mentally escape painful experiences and memories is a common coping mechanism. In her candid one-on-one interviews, Lovato opens up about her own trauma in youth and adulthood. She shares her experiences with sexual assault as well as the pain of coping with the passing of her estranged father. 


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In the docuseries, Lovato reveals surviving two specific incidences of sexual assault; An assualt by her dealer during her overdose and rape at the age of 15 by another young celebrity. As a Disney star, she feared revealing this fact because of stigma, societal expectations, industry pressures and the world’s strange obsession with the starlet and her cohorts’ virginity. Like many survivors of sexual assault, Lovato believed she would be scrutinized and victim-blamed. 

How sexual trauma and addiction are linked 

Sexual trauma and addiction are linked through several other pathways. In fact, research has found a significant relationship between traumatic life events and alcohol dependence. Many individuals struggling with addiction have survived sexual assaults and other traumatic experiences.

There are higher rates of alcohol and drug use disorders among men and women who have experienced sexual abuse. Those in active addiction may be more vulnerable to sexual assault. People with substance use disorders may be exposed to more unsafe circumstances and have a reduced support network to turn to. Drugs and alcohol can also be used to facilitate sexual assault.

Demi Lovato’s addiction and trauma story highlights shame & stigma

Because of stigma surrounding sexual assault and other traumas, many turn to substances as a way to escape the pain, guilt and shame. According to the National Center for PTSD, 25%-75% of people who have survived abusive or violent trauma report issues with alcohol. Substance use can numb PTSD symptoms. When a person stops using drugs and alcohol, the symptoms may return, which in turn, increases the chances of relapse. As sexual assault and addiction are stigmatized, victims are also less likely to seek help. Lovato worried how the media and public would treat her if she came forward.  

Trauma requires specialized treatment

Working through trauma is an integral part of recovery for many, although it should be done slowly and with the guidance of trauma specialists.  Moving too quickly can have untended consequences, leaving the individual with emotions and memories they cannot yet manage.

Victims of assault and abuse may a display behaviors that can be difficult to understand from the outside. This does not mean they are not suffering. Lovato illustrates this with her own experience following  her overdose and sexual assault. After a weeklong trauma recovery workshop, she used heroin again and had sex with her assaulter. Demi contacted her dealer, the man who raped her during her overdose, in effort to take control and rewrite her past trauma.

However, according to Marriage and Family Therapist, professor and YouTube commentator, Dr. Kirk Honda, this response is not uncommon in victims of abuse and assault.  Dr. Honda notes that a lot of people will attempt to seek mastery over their trauma, sometimes in unhealthy ways. One unhealthy way is to recreate that same trauma in attempt to change the outcome or gain a sense of control. Unfortunately, this usually does not have the anticipated results, leaving the person feel worse than before. 

Trauma is extremely complex. If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, you don’t have to go at it alone. Contact RAINN’s hotline for support and resources. You also may consider finding a specialized therapist who can help you work through the trauma or integrating it into your treatment process.


2. Overdoses are common during relapses, as seen with Demi Lovato’s addiction recovery journey

Although the series explores the life of Demi Lovato, addiction struggles, and her eating disorder, her 2018 overdose is the central focus. Prior to her overdose, Lovato’s loved ones, employees, fans and her sober companion all believed she was sober. In fact, she had only recently celebrated her sober anniversary at a concert surrounded by fans. However, the singer actually backslid to drinking. While she assured those who knew that she just wanted to have fun and drink in moderation, she quickly began using other substances, relapsing in full force until she nearly died of overdose in her LA home.  


Concerned about a loved ones addiction?

If you are worried about a loved one abusing drugs or alcohol, you don’t have to sit idly by. Overdoseis an all too real possibility. Friends and family can be instrumental in encouraging a person to get help. Although you cannot force someone to attend treatment, there are a number of ways you can encourage them to seek help without inadvertently enabling their addiction. Check out our guides on how to talk to your adult child, teenager, parent or significant other about their addiction and getting treatment. Contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation for more help.



Unfortunately, for many like Lovato, relapses can be extremely dangerous and lead to overdose, and even death. This is because in active addiction, one’ s body becomes accustomed to and even dependent on large doses of drugs or alcohol.

The dangers of relapse

During a relapse, many try and use as they did before quitting, although their body no longer has the same tolerance. Others may use even more than before, binging and trying new substances because they previously felt constrained. For this reason, during a relapse, a person is at greater risk for overdose and even death.

Lovato says that her substance abuse became even more extreme and she began trying new drugs including heroin, a non-synthetic opioid during her relapse. Opioids can be especially dangerous, habit forming and are strongly linked with overdose death. Over 70,000 Americans died of drug induced overdose in 2019, with nearly 50,000 of those deaths involving opioids.

Why relapses occur and warning signs

Relapses can be quite common for those struggling with a substance use disorder. For many, they are a normal part of recovery, though dangerous. Relapses can be more likely when a person stops using substances but does not treat the underlying issues and pain. This may happen when a person gets sober but doesn’t go through formal recovery or treatment. While they’ve stopped using drugs and alcohol, they may not have healed or may lack the tools for long-term sobriety.  According to a 2007 study, key factors in long-term recovery include social and community support, affiliation with 12-step organizations and negative consequences of substance use. Participation in formal treatment and longer stays are also associated with better outcomes.

In her interviews discussing what led up to her overdose, Lovato conveys how frustrated she was with the control and monitoring in her life surrounding her substance use. In some ways, using substances again was a rejection of the control, and assertion of her own autonomy. Frustration, resentment, and rationalizing potential substance use are all common indicators of a forthcoming relapse. 

Gorski actually has found 37 common warning signs of a potential relapse. Dry drunk syndrome behaviors–when a person starts behaving like they did when they were drinking– may also indicate an oncoming relapse. This includes telling lies, being self-centered, anger and skipping recovery-related commitments. Additionally stopping following a treatment plan can also be a warning sign.

Is relapse failure?

In short, no. As we can see from the experience of Demi Lovato, addiction is a chronic disease, one that can be managed, but not cured. Relapse rates for substance use disorders are actually similar to those for other chronic conditions like hypertension and asthma. Relapsing does not mean that a person has failed at recovery.

The road to recovery can be quite rocky.  Even after relapsing, you can recover from addiction, but it requires consistent managing and awareness of the disease. Knowing the signs of a relapse and having a strong support network are key for preventing relapse.

If you or a loved one struggles with addiction, it’s important to know how to recognize overdose and what to do if one occurs. If your loved one abuses oxycodone, heroin, fentanyl, or other opioids, always have Narcan on hand to use in case of overdose. If administered quickly enough, Narcan, also known as naloxone, can reverse the effects of overdose and save a life. In Lovato’s case, it may have saved her life.


3.  As exemplified by Demi Lovato, addiction and other disorders sometimes fuel one another


Demi Lovato

Substance abuse and body image are both topics long discussed by Demi Lovato. Addiction and eating disorders actually have a great deal in common, although they have different symptoms. It is not uncommon for one to accompany the other. In fact, 50% of people with eating disorders abuse or are dependent on a substance. 

Both eating and substance use disorders can be responses to trauma, negative emotions and painful experiences. This may have been the case for the famous performer. As explained by Demi Lovato, addiction as well as controlling her body helped her escape from her internal pain.

Substance abuse can even help fuel an eating disorder.  Some use substances to control hunger, for instance. Those with bulimia are even more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol than those suffering from anorexia. When eating disorders and substance use disorders occur together, the risk of suicide increases.

Other comorbid mental health conditions

Eating disorders are not the only mental health condition linked with addiction. People with anxiety disorders, depression and bipolar disorder, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), psychotic illness, borderline personality disorder, antisocial personality disorder and schizophrenia all have higher rates of substance use disorders. According to Demi Lovato, addiction, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia were all issues with which her father struggled. 

Seeking treatment with a dual diagnosis

Because these mental health issues are more common in people who struggle with addiction, it is important they look for programs equipped to handle dual diagnosis. In many cases, if you do not address both conditions in substance addiction treatment, recovery is much less likely.

Because one condition can worsen the other, it is important to manage and treat both. Integrated treatment plans that work to address both conditions are much more effective than separate treatment plans. Liberty Ranch professionals work with clients to create a treatment plan that considers all diagnosis. If you or a loved one struggle with a substance use disorder and another condition, contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation to learn more about treatment options.


4. Addiction runs in family


Dancing with the Devil premiere

Although a large portion of the series explores her widely publicized overdose, Lovato also opens up about the challenges she experienced in childhood and adolescence. While both parents struggled with conditions, her relationship was especially rocky with her father, Patrick Lovato. The two were estranged for many years. According to the performer, Patrick struggled with substance dependency, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder for many years prior to his passing. The documentary begs the questions, what impact did Demi’s parents have on her own addictions and mental health?

Well, addiction can in fact be “inherited”. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, both genetics and environment are two factors that increase the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder. The early experiences of Demi Lovato, addiction issues in her family, and a genetic predisposition may have influenced the performer’s own struggles with substance abuse. A 2008 study on alcohol consumption found that genetics account for 60% to 80% variance for the risk of alcoholism. Moreover, other mental health conditions, including some her father struggled with, can put people at greater risk for a substance use disorder in their lifetime. 

Is my family at risk?

While not all children with parents addicted to drugs and alcohol grow up to have a problem themselves, they are at greater risk for substance abuse and dependence. For example, kids with parents that have alcohol use disorders are 4 times more likely to develop symptoms of the same disorder. They also are at greater risk for other mental health conditions including, depression and anxiety disorders

Environment and experiences growing up also play a critical role. Children absorb and learn the behaviors by watching their parents and others living in the household. In fact, it is not uncommon to see drug addiction and alcoholism across several generations of a family. Parental drug exposure can even produce behavioral, biochemical, and neuroanatomical changes to future generations. 

The struggles of growing up around addiction

Whether they are aware or not, a parent’s substance abuse can influence their child in many ways, even from a young age. Given what we learned about the early experiences of Demi Lovato, addiction and alcoholism may have had a lasting impression on her own struggles through the following pathways:

  • Modeling behaviors: As kids grow and develop, they learn acceptable behaviors through the modeling of adults and older siblings. Parents who drink and abuse substances regularly may inadvertently model these actions to their children. Children can also perceive their parents’ heavy substance use as approval of the behavior. 
  • A chaotic home life: The disease of addiction can significantly disrupt a child’s home life. Parents with substance use disorder may have difficulty prioritizing the needs of their child, as they cycle between intoxication, cravings, substance seeking and shame. Many parents with substance use disorders struggle to care and attune to their children. Addiction can result in greater conflict, erratic parenting, physical and emotional abuse and financial strain. 
  • Damage to self-worth: A lack of stability, limited attunement and the chaotic environment can leave children of substance abusers feeling rejected, worthless, or even responsible for their parent’s issues. Many end up abusing substances as an adolescent or adult as a way to cope with painful and negative feelings.

Throughout the documentary, Lovato admits to abusing alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs to numb her own negative feelings toward father and to retain a sense of control.  Unfortunately, this internalized pain and the corresponding coping behaviors can be passed down from parent to child.

What can I do to prevent addiction in my family?

So what does this mean for parents with substance use disorders and their children?  Having addiction in your family does not mean you are doomed to have a substance use disorder yourself, but it does mean you and your loved ones are at greater risk. If drug addiction and alcoholism have been issues in your family, likely there is a great deal of pain and underlying family issues to be explored.

Addiction does not have to be inherited. But ignoring the scars will not help them go away. Understanding how addiction works, finding prevention programming, getting treatment, seeking therapy, family counseling, parenting classes, attending peer support and healing from traumas can all be helpful tools in preventing substance use disordersLiberty Ranch integrates therapy and family counseling into its comprehensive approach to treatment to help clients as well as their families heal.


5. Demi Lovato’s addiction recovery journey shows us the importance of support and commitment


Demi Lovato

Despite the superstar status of Demi Lovato, addiction and relapse are not things from which she was immune. Relapse happens. The key is remaining committed in the face of obstacles and asking for help when you need it. The singer discusses having many people around her invested in her sobriety. In fact, she had a team focused on keeping her sober. Yet she still found herself struggling with substance abuse and hiding it after getting sober years prior.

Although she had support, from the actress’ comments, it appears as if she progressively became less invested in recovery for herself. She may have even begun to feel trapped. Some find themselves struggling later in recovery and try to just push through, rather than seek help. However, bottling these feelings up can be disastrous.

The importance of treatment and support

When these feelings occur, it can be helpful to seek additional treatment and peer support to work through things. Managing addiction and alcoholism is a daily effort and it is okay to struggle. Remember, recovery is for you, and the best thing you can do is ask for help when you feel yourself slipping.

Getting treatment, learning about addiction, being aware of your mental state, knowing the signs of relapse, seeking peer support, staying in a sober living facility, and reaching out when you are struggling are all helpful in ensuring long-term recovery from addiction. Treatment can be instrumental in helping a person get sober, manage their addiction, build life skills, address underlying issues, and even improve relationships with loved ones. 

Liberty Ranch Rehabilitation Center


Ohio addiction treatment

Liberty Ranch’s Intensive Outpatient Program helps men and women suffering from alcoholism or addiction heal through support and guidance from qualified professionals. Clients build recovery skills, work through deep-seated issues, create community, and learn to live the recovery principles necessary to sustain long-term sobriety. 

Contact Liberty Ranch for a free consultation to learn more about treatment options available to you or a loved one.