Demi Lovato Reminds us that Recovery is Nonlinear and Connection is Critical


Fans around the world were devastated by the news last month that singer Demi Lovato had been hospitalized for an apparent drug overdose. Lovato is now out of the hospital and has checked herself into rehab, noting in a recent Instagram post: “What I’ve learned is that this illness is not something that disappears or fades with time. It is something I must continue to overcome and have not done yet.”


Demi Lovato has always been transparent about her struggles with substance use. Her recent single, “Sober,” admitted that she had relapsed, with haunting lyrics such as: “Momma, I’m so sorry, I’m not sober anymore,” and “I’m sorry for the fans I lost who watched me fall again / I wanna be a role model, but I’m only human.” Yet it is this very transparency that caused fans to start the viral hashtag #HowDemiHasHelpedMe shortly after her overdose.


Lovato’s vulnerable honesty is also shifting the conversation about addiction in Hollywood. The outpouring of support she received in the press and on social media stands in stark contrast to the way other celebrities struggling with addiction, such as Amy Winehouse and Lindsay Lohan, were mocked and ridiculed in the media for their public struggles. As noted in one recent Glamour article, “Back then, the conversations around addiction were largely based on the false assumption that it could be cured simply by having more willpower.”


According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration’s (SAMHSA) Working Definition of Recovery, “Recovery is non-linear, characterized by continual growth and improved functioning that may involve setbacks. Because setbacks are a natural, though not inevitable, part of the recovery process, it is essential to foster resilience for all individuals and families.”


Setbacks like Lovato’s are extremely common. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, “40% to 60% of people with a substance abuse disorder relapse at some time in their lives.” Yet there can be a tremendous amount of shame for people in the grips of relapse. Fearing judgment or rejection, they may pull away from family, friends, and other people in recovery just at the time that they need that support the most.


We know so much more about addiction today than we ever have. For example, we now know that judgment and punishment only fuel it, and that empathy and support are the greatest tools we have in overcoming it. As author Johann Hari said in his viral TED talk “Everything You Think You Know about Addiction is Wrong:” “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety – it’s connection.” By being so willing to be vulnerable and open about her journey, Lovato is a living example of connection.


Read more about how Demi Lovato is helping to change the conversation about addiction and recovery: