Renowned musician, Demi Lovato, has long struggled with drug abuse and mental health. Throughout the years, she has been open about her health with fans – her lyrics, her interviews, and the several documentaries she’s released all portray pieces of her recovery journey. In fact, in her six years sober, she became an advocate for mental health and addiction recovery. She became a role model for many people out there who are struggling with depression, eating disorders, and opioid dependence. However, amidst it all, she was still struggling herself.
In her 2021 YouTube docuseries, Dancing with the Devil, Demi Lovato reveals new truths about her battle against substance addiction and the struggles she faced leading up to her near-fatal overdose in July 2018. This four-episode docuseries has a different tone than her previous documentary in 2017, Simply Complicated, in that it provides a more honest and raw depiction of Demi Lovato’s overdose, addiction, and mental health disorders over the years. In fact, Demi starts the first episode by stating, “I’m just going to say it all.” She surprised the director, her family, her friends, and even herself with the level of openness she brought to the new series.
For Demi Lovato, it was important for her to share her story with her fans – the real journey and the trials she faced – and to set the record straight. She recognizes in Dancing with the Devil that her fans deserve to know what happened to her the night of her overdose, as well as in the events leading up to it. Most of all, she wants her fans to know that she is only human, too, and that recovery takes time.
Recovery from addiction is a lifelong journey. It takes time and commitment to overcome. While everyone’s path to recovery looks a bit different, there are typically trials and tribulations along the way. Demi Lovato’s journey is full of pain, trauma, pressure, as well as a pressing desire to break free from all of it. Like many people struggling with addiction, she escaped in the form of drugs and alcohol.
What Led to Demi Lovato’s Drug Overdose?
On July 24, 2018, Demi Lovato overdosed on a dangerous mix of the opioid drugs, heroin and fentanyl. Despite the friends she held close, and the team of assistants and therapists that monitored her closely, no one was fully aware of her relapse to hard drugs after six years of sobriety. “Demi is very good at hiding what she needs to hide,” her sister explained in an interview. This is common among people struggling with addiction – they often hide it behind closed doors, afraid or unready to ask for help.
There were signs of her relapse, however. Just a month before her overdose, Demi Lovato wrote the song “Sober,” which reveals:
I don't know, I don't know, I don't know, I don't know why
I do it every, every, every time
It's only when I'm lonely
Sometimes I just wanna cave and I don't wanna fight
I try and I try and I try and I try and I try
Just hold me, I'm lonely
Momma, I'm so sorry, I'm not sober anymore
And daddy, please, forgive me for the drinks spilled on the floor
To the ones who never left me, we've been down this road before
I'm so sorry, I'm not sober anymore
I'm not sober anymore
I'm sorry that I'm here again, I promise I'll get help
It wasn't my intention, I'm sorry to myself
Demi Lovato used drugs as a coping mechanism to escape negative feelings. The singer-songwriter struggles with depression, as well as a history of sexual abuse, a negative self-image, and disordered eating. She also carries trauma and grief for her father. All this brought her great pain that she internalized. In Dancing with the Devil, she explains that she often compared herself to other women in the media, and felt she was not good or “thin” enough. She self-medicated through drugs, explaining, "In the same way [my addiction] almost killed me, it saved my life at times, because there were times that I dealt with suicidal ideations,” she said. “Had I gone forward with that in that moment, instead of another destructive coping mechanism, I wouldn't be here to tell my story."
What Happened the Night of Demi Lovato’s Overdose?
When the news of Demi Lovato’s overdose broke in July 2018, many people thought “not again.” Some questioned, “Why would she do this to herself?” or even, “Why did her friends let her do this?” Demi Lovato was celebrating her friend’s birthday the night before. Many people blamed her friend for having the get-together and for “letting” Demi relapse. By talking in this way, these people are adding to the stigma of addiction, and ignoring the fact that addiction is a chronic disease. It is not a choice.
As noted previously, Demi Lovato’s relapse happened months before her overdose. She started drinking alcohol and using some drugs, as a means to get control back over her life. She was sick of others telling her what to do, or who to hang out with, or how to live her life. One night, she admits, she used a mix of meth, molly, marijuana, oxycontin, and alcohol. “That alone should’ve killed me,” she says.
The night of Demi Lovato’s overdose, she called her drug dealer after her friends left her home. At this point, it was late, they were all drinking seltzer waters, and they thought Demi was going to bed. Her dealer came over and, according to Demi’s friend Sirah Mitchell, gave her heroin “laced with fentanyl.”
Fentanyl is, by far, one of the most dangerous drugs out there today. It is 100 times more potent than morphine, and 50 times more powerful than heroin. Dealers and drug manufacturers today will lace fentanyl into drugs in order to give users a more significant “high.” Due to its high potency, the smallest amount of fentanyl can leave users dependent and wanting more. Additionally, the smallest amount of fentanyl – about .25mg, or a grain of salt – can be fatal for a user.
Giving Demi Lovato fentanyl and heroin was not the only burden the dealer brought. He also sexually abused her the night of her overdose, while she was high on this drug cocktail. Demi Lovato recounts, "When they found me, I was naked, blue. I was literally left for dead after he took advantage of me." She continues, "When I woke up in the hospital, they asked if we had had consensual sex. There was one flash that I had of him on top of me. I saw that flash and I said yes. It wasn't until a month after the overdose that I realized, 'You weren't in any state of mind to make a consensual decision.'"
In Dancing with the Devil, Demi Lovato speaks of this assault as well as the first time she was raped as a teenager. She carries these traumas with her, and continues to work through them. Like many women struggling with addiction, Demi Lovato coped through drugs and alcohol. In fact, research shows that 75 percent of females in addiction treatment have experienced sexual abuse.
The person who found Demi Lovato was her assistant and friend, Jordan Jackson. She was coming to wake the singer up for an appointment, only to find that Lovato was unresponsive in her bed. Her entire body was blue. Jackson thought she was dead, but called 911 despite other’s wishes to keep the overdose as secret as possible. In the hospital, Demi Lovato was administered Narcan, an emergency antidote for opioid overdose. Her doctors told her she only had five to ten more minutes to live.
Demi Lovato experienced many negative, physical effects during and after her overdose. The fentanyl-heroin combination caused three strokes and a heart attack. Because her oxygen levels were so dangerously low, she was left with brain damage and also lost her vision. Although she has since gotten some of her vision back, she is not allowed to drive and has trouble reading. Despite the disruption those effects have caused on her life today, she sees them as “reminders” of what could happen if she gets into a dark place again.
The Disease of Substance Addiction
As Demi Lovato recognizes throughout the new docuseries, substance addiction is a lasting, lifelong condition. She works at it every day. She still experiences dark moments from time to time, but she has come a long way spiritually and emotionally. Since her overdose, she has learned to love herself and do things that contribute to her health and happiness, like meditation. Of her struggles, she says, “I knew that what I had been looking for I hadn’t found yet. But what I had been looking for was not in the form of a drug. It was the spiritual growth that I have had over the past 7 months.”
Demi Lovato recognizes that her journey towards recovery is not yet over. “[Addiction] is a very powerful disease. And I’m not going to pretend like I’m invincible. I have to work every day.”
As Scooter Braun, Demi Lovato’s manager, also explains in Dancing with the Devil, “When you’re dealing with addiction, it’s not something that is just cured one day. It’s a constant battle.”
If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, it is important to recognize that this is a disease. Addiction is chronic and can happen to anyone, of any background or upbringing. While one makes the initial choice to use drugs, addiction is not a choice. Drugs make lasting, chemical changes in the brain, altering a person’s thoughts, behaviors, and priorities.
Madison Lovato, Demi’s 19-year-old sister, reflects on this point: “It hurts me so bad when I hear stories of people saying, ‘My family member chose addiction over me,’ or ‘My family member chose alcohol over me...’ I know too much about addiction and mental illness to think that’s all there is to it.”
Dancing With the Devil
Demi Lovato equates her drug and alcohol abuse to dancing with the devil. Not only is this the title of her latest docuseries (released March 2021), but it is also the title of her latest studio album (Dancing with the Devil... The Art of Starting Over) and the album’s hit song, which reflects on her 2018 relapse and overdose:
I was dancing with the devil
Out of control
Almost made it to heaven
It was closer than you know
Playing with the enemy
Gambling with my soul
It's so hard to say no
When you're dancing with the devil
Thought I knew my limit, yeah
I thought that I could quit it, yeah
I thought that I could walk away easily
But here I am, falling down on my knees
Praying for better days to come and wash this pain away
Could you please forgive me?
Though Demi Lovato is still figuring out her recovery and what works for her, she continues to be an advocate for mental health and substance addiction. Her candidness in her music, and in this 2021 docuseries, is one of her many efforts to spread awareness about addiction as a disease. She encourages those struggling to ask for help – do not hide your inner struggles, and do not try to cope with them alone. You deserve to be happy, to be healthy, and to thrive.
Demi Lovato leaves us with this: “You don’t have to conform to what other people want you to be. You can choose your life and set it up the way you want to. With the right people around you, you can thrive. You aren’t your lowest moments. I want everyone to take that away.”
If your loved one is struggling with addiction, a mental health disorder, or an eating disorder and in need of professional help, do not hesitate to contact Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized dual diagnosis treatment center for young adults. Call 877-581-1793 to learn more.