New Demi Lovato Doc Details Singer's Overdose Scare, Relapse

By Paul Fuhr 10/20/17

“I went on, like, a bender of two months where I was using daily. I was using when I had a sober companion—and I went through 20 different sober companions.”

Demi Lovato
Photo via YouTube

The new YouTube documentary, Demi Lovato: Simply Complicated, provides a raw, surprisingly candid examination of the “Sorry Not Sorry” singer’s struggles with mental health and substance use disorder.

“The last time I did an interview this long,” she reveals early on, “I was on cocaine.” It sets a bracingly honest tone for the 78-minute film, which explores not only her addiction and recovery, but her efforts to juggle recording, acting, touring for concerts, modeling, and X-Factor hosting duties.

Lovato, who rose to fame through The Disney Channel’s Camp Rock and Sonny With a Chance, quickly faced an identity crisis. “She had to be squeaky clean on The Disney Channel, [with] all types of moral clauses and intensity around behavior,” said Phil McIntyre, Lovato’s manager. “Once the camera stops rolling, she’s living another life. She couldn’t be herself.”

Still, the doc suggests that Lovato’s problems ran much deeper than that of a teenage performer using drugs to cope with pressure. Lovato’s late father, Patrick, becomes something of a specter in the doc, casting a long shadow over Demi’s family and success. On top of wrestling with drugs and mental health issues, one family friend recounts that he told his kids he was dying of cancer, even when he wasn’t.

“I guess I always searched for what he found in drugs and alcohol because that fulfilled him,” Lovato said, “and he chose that over a family.”

Meanwhile, McIntyre observed that filmmakers were drawn to Lovato’s “natural edge” which “made her authentic and believable”—an edge that the doc explores at length. “I was depressed at a very, very young age [and] fascinated with death— wondering what it would be like to have a funeral,” the 25-year-old singer recalled. “I never knew why I would think so darkly.” That darkness, it turns out, drove her to as much success as it threatened to destroy everything. 

While touring with the Jonas Brothers in 2010, Lovato threw a hotel-room party fueled by booze, Adderall, and weed. Soon after, she quit the tour and entered rehab for “physical and emotional issues.”

And yet, her much-publicized stint in treatment didn’t stick. Before long, she was smuggling cocaine onto airplanes. “I wasn’t working my program. I wasn’t ready to get sober,” she admits. “I went on, like, a bender of two months where I was using daily. I was using when I had a sober companion—and I went through 20 different sober companions.”

While she was publicly promoting her "newfound sobriety" Lovato says things continued to go downhill. "I would sneak out and get drugs, I would fake my drug tests with other people's pee," Lovato reveals. "There was one night when I used a bunch of coke and I popped a few Xanax bars, and I began to choke a little bit. My heart started racing, and I thought to myself, 'Oh my God, I might be overdosing right now.'"

What follows in Simply Complicated is the stuff of countless crash-and-burn Hollywood stories, though McIntyre quickly sought to avert another tragic ending. He brought in life coach Mike Bayer, who was determined to “work off that very small part of [Lovato] that wanted to get well.” Bayer doesn’t mince words in the doc, either: “Demi was on a road to suicide,” he said, noting her coke and pill consumption was out of control. When she wasn’t getting loaded and publicly promoting sobriety, she was performing on American Idol, completely dead-eyed and hungover.

The film details a downward spiral of cocaine, booze, and pills—a path that swiftly led her to a psych ward. It was only when Bayer forced Lovato to destroy her diamond-studded cell phone, cutting her off completely from drug dealers, that she completely surrendered to recovery. At five years sober, Lovato has been as resolute as she’s been open about her struggles.

In fact, her dedication to addiction recovery is perhaps best reflected in the documentary’s moments where she’s shown tirelessly working on vocal tracks. Just like the process of recovery, Lovato painstakingly refines every line and detail, trying to get them just right.

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Paul Fuhr lives in Columbus, Ohio with his family and two cats, Vesper and Dr. No. He's written for AfterParty MagazineThe Literary Review and The Live Oak Review, among others. He's also the host of "Drop the Needle," a podcast about music and addiction recovery. More at You can also find Paul on Linkedin and Twitter.