This past March, she celebrated her fourth year of sobriety, but the former Disney star turned pop idol readily admits that the journey toward recovery was difficult and still requires a sobering amount of discipline even today.
Lovato has been surprisingly vocal about her personal battles since becoming sober and was even named the celebrity spokesperson of the Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health campaign back in 2015. Life after treatment has shown continual success for the musical performer and has motivated her to stay strong for her largely teenage fan base while she pushes for more dialogue on addiction and mental illness issues.
As she continues to express her personal story, people hoping to conquer their own demons as well as recovering individuals can look at Lovato as an example that sobriety truly can lead to bigger and better things.
Lovato’s Rise to Fame Jump-Starts Bad Behavior
“I lived fast and I was going to die young,” Lovato told American Way. “I didn’t think I would make it to 21.”
Demi Lovato first appeared on television as one of Barney the Dinosaur’s friends when she was 7 years old, but most fans remember her days as Disney Channel’s musical film star on Camp Rock and the main lead of sitcom series, Sonny with a Chance. On the surface, life seemed like a golden ladder to fame and glory for the child star, especially as her Disney career jump-started what would be her modern-day’s passion: being a pop rock singer, performing in concert venues next to other up-and-coming music idols.
But when news headlines came out about Lovato punching a backup singer, who she regarded as a friend, during a Camp Rock tour with the Jonas Brothers in 2010, the glitz and glamour of the then teenage celebrity began to crack at the surface. At age 18, Demi Lovato was having a public meltdown.
“I was performing concerts on an empty stomach. I was losing my voice from purging. I was self-medicating and I was so emotionally whacked out that I took it out on someone that meant a lot to me,” said Lovato to Daily Mail in their article, “Demi Lovato: ‘Drugs numbed everything. My life was in shambles.’”
What fans didn’t know was that Demi Lovato was suffering from an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder, bulimia, and an alcohol and narcotic addiction. And that right after the punching incident, Lovato entered rehab treatment for “physical and emotional issues.”
“So now I’m in rehab,” Lovato told American Way, “and I thought, ‘Oh great, now the world thinks I’m just another stereotype.’”
The story of child star gone wild is no longer shocking to entertainment news lovers, particularly for the Disney Channel talent factory. Something about the picture-perfect lifestyle of happy-go-lucky, singing and dancing teen idols has driven former Disney stars—such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and Lindsay Lohan—into sensational rebellion once they began entering their adult years. Almost makes you wonder when the Mickey Mouse Club became the next recovery support group.
Lovato Showed Early Signs for Compulsive Behavior Through Bulimia and Bipolar Disorder
But even for Demi Lovato, her fame was not the only factor involved. Lovato has revealed in recent years that her personal upbringing played a huge role in her addictive behaviors.
In terms of her genetic history, Lovato’s father, Patrick, was diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, and was a known alcoholic. Their relationship, however, was strained and Lovato would ultimately cut ties with her father 7 years before he passed. Because her parents divorced while she was a toddler, Lovato would grow up under the guidance of her mother, Dianna Lee Hart, a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, who—along with Demi’s grandmother—struggled with bulimia.
For Demi Lovato, the root of her body image battle began before her Disney stardom. From being judged in beauty pageants at a young age to being bullied by other schoolkids, Lovato had struggled with her self-esteem and needing others’ approval since she was in diapers. With her mother also struggling with bulimia, Lovato would not have a healthy role model for self-love until much later.
“Even though I was 2 or 3 years old,” she told American Way. “Being around somebody who was 80 pounds and had an active eating disorder… it’s hard not to grow up like that.”
The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse published its report, “Understanding and Addressing Food Addiction: A Science-Based Approach to Policy, Practice and Research” in February of 2016, in which they examined several types of food and eating disorders, as well as their correlations to substance abuse.
In the report, they determined that an estimated 1 percent of the US population, or about 3 million people, “has a lifetime diagnosis of bulimia nervosa,” and of those people, about 37 percent also have a substance use disorder, which is nearly “four times as many as in the general population.”
“It was always there,” Lovato revealed in an interview with E! News, “but then I just acted on it at around 8 or 9 years old. I started overeating, compulsively overeating. I would bake cookies and then eat the whole pan. I went from doing that to being unhappy with my body. I went to just completely starving myself and that turned into throwing up and starving myself and it was just this crazy battle going on inside of me.”
Adding newfound fame and early signs of bipolar disorder to the mix only heightened the emotional roller coaster Lovato was riding, that it was only a matter of time before she developed unhealthy coping methods, such as cutting herself and taking prescription pills.
“That was how the substance abuse started,” Lovato told Daily Mail, referring to a car crash she was involved in during her middle school years. She had minor injuries, but it was enough for doctors to prescribe her opioid painkillers. “I liked the feeling they gave me—they sort of numbed everything—and I also liked the sneakiness of taking extra pills out of my mom’s bag without her knowing.”
Lovato’s Self-Destructive Behavior Eventually Led to Treatment
As more money started piling up from Lovato’s bread-winning television gigs—enough money to support her mother, stepfather, and two sisters by herself alone—the rising star began to follow in the footsteps of other “train-wreck” celebs: partying in nightclubs until dawn, picking up cocaine and heavy binge drinking, and getting into more emotionally volatile fights with people she cared about.
Her destructive behavior began to push people away, triggering Lovato’s natural response to self-medicate with alcohol and drugs or continue to self-harm. Even as her parents attempted to intervene and show concern for her health, Demi Lovato was still a teenager trying to be an adult with enough financial power within the family to demand being treated like one. All attempts at stopping her party-all-night lifestyle were met with backlash.
“I’d say, ‘What are you going to do? I pay the bills!’” Lovato admitted to American Way, “I put my parents in an uncomfortable position. There’s no manual on how to parent a pop star.”
Even after the Camp Rock punching incident, when Demi Lovato entered rehab treatment, she regarded the situation as a time to treat her bulimia and her officially diagnosed bipolar disorder, but not her addictions. It turned into a “whack-a-mole” effect, she recalls, a typical reaction when dual-diagnosis treatment isn’t implemented.
It’s said that people suffering from bulimia nervosa show the highest risk of obtaining a substance use disorder and for engaging in “symptom substitution,” the act of switching from one bad behavior to another. When a client does not address both their mental illness and their addiction simultaneously in treatment, they risk the chance of worsening one of their conditions after reentering society. Because food and purging is a compulsive coping mechanism, the transition from this addictive behavior easily translates into developing a larger substance abuse cycle.
As she started eating more and treating her mental illness, her cocaine and alcohol addictions worsened, even as she was supervised by a sober companion assigned to her. She began hiding her drug intake and drinking from friends and family, claiming that she couldn’t go “without 30 minutes to an hour without cocaine” and that she would sneak some hits on airplanes after everyone went to sleep.
But finally, at age 19, Demi Lovato would hit rock bottom. In an article with E! News, she describes the moment she realized the severity of her substance abuse:
“I was going to the airport and I had a Sprite bottle just filled with vodka and it was just nine in the morning and I was throwing up in the car and this was just to get on a plane to get back to LA to the sober living house that I was staying at…I had all the help in the world, but I didn’t want it. … When I hit that moment, I was like, it’s no longer fun when you’re doing it alone. … I think at 19 years old, I had a moment where I was like, ‘Oh my God…that is alcoholic behavior. [It’s] no longer, I’m young and rebellious and out having fun; it was, wow, I’m one of those people… I gotta get my s—t together.”
–“Demi Lovato Talks Past Drug Use: ‘I Couldn’t Go 30 Minutes to an Hour Without Cocaine.’” E! News.
In January of 2012, the singer entered treatment and a sober-living home, where she stayed for about a year. To this day, Lovato continues to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, a routine many recovering individuals follow even years after treatment, and remains vocal about mental illness and addiction and dual-diagnosis issues.
Lovato Speaks Up about Mental Illness and Addiction
This past March celebrates Demi Lovato’s fourth year of sobriety—and in that time, the pop singer has published Staying Strong: 365 Days a Year, a book of her personal insights to help fans get through life; became the spokesperson for Be Vocal: Speak Up for Mental Health campaign; and has taken to social media to slam the “thigh gap” trend, along with other toxic behaviors, and promote body positivity, healthy gym regimens, and mental-health awareness.
With a following of 36 million on Twitter, Lovato understands her role in young fans’ lives and admits that her fans hold her accountable for her actions and words, even though she wasn’t always appreciative of her public responsibility. Having gone through the hardships of being bullied, having low self-esteem, and falling into depression and addiction, Lovato has established herself as an open book since completing treatment to show her fans that they are not alone in their experiences.
“When I have meet-and-greets, I can’t tell you the amount of times that girls will show me their arms covered in scars or cuts,” she said to American Way. “They’ll tell me, ‘You helped me get through this. Because of you, I stopped self-harming,’ or ‘I got sober.’ Hearing those things gave my life new meaning.”
Struggling with Addiction? Get Treatment Now
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