What Is "Cali Sober"?

By Kelly Burch 10/30/19

Some are giving up the bottle and picking up the joint. 

Image: 
Cali sober person holding a nugget of weed near the ocean

What does sobriety mean to you?

Many who have decided to give up alcohol have opted to keep marijuana in their lives, giving rise to the term “California sober” ("Cali sober" for short)—abstaining from alcohol but still using cannabis. 

Fiona Apple mentioned in a recent Vulture profile that she used to drink to help her sleep, but now she uses marijuana instead. 

“Alcohol helped me for a while, but I don’t drink anymore. Now it’s just pot, pot, pot,” she said. 

Weaning With Weed

Sara, 38, who spoke with The Cut for a story on being "Cali sober," said that she’s seen friends give up alcohol and turn to weed as they age. 

She said, “At my age, I’ve noticed a lot of people are at their ‘I’m going to stop drinking’ point, and weed has become a way for them to wean themselves off of other substances.”

Sara never drank much, but discovered that she could use marijuana to relax and engage socially. 

She explained, “I could smoke a little bit before we went out and I wouldn’t be as anxious socially. I could pass around a bowl with friends and it’d be like what I didn’t do in college.” 

Marijuana Acts As A Substitute

The New Yorker staff writer Naomi Fry said that she can use marijuana when she’s trying to step back from alcohol. 

“I like Cali sober because for me it means that even though I’m getting older, and I take monthlong breaks from drinking occasionally, it doesn’t mean that my life can’t still be enjoyable. It’s sort of equivalent to being a silver fox: your hair might be gray, and you might be taking it a little slower, but you can still be hot!”

Eve Peyser realized at age 23 that she had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, but she never felt that way about cannabis. So, she stopped drinking, but continued to smoke pot. 

“Something my therapist said when I was getting to the point when I was ready to quit drinking was, ‘You do what works for you until it doesn’t work for you anymore.' I didn’t quit smoking weed because it didn’t have that super negative impact on me,” she said. 

Peyser recognizes that she is still relying on weed in a way, saying, “I definitely am very hard on myself for my weed habits. In my fantasy of my ideal self, it doesn’t involve smoking weed. It involves having coping mechanisms outside of substances to deal with my problems.”

However, using some substances that aren’t as problematic is a good compromise, she says. 

“We use things because we’re in pain, because we want to escape from our lives, because we want to relax. I don’t know if my usage is necessarily healthy, but it doesn’t harm me in the same way alcohol did.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.