Only 10 years after her national television debut, Demi Lovato found herself minutes away from death.
“I had three strokes,” she reveals in a recent episode of her new YouTube miniseries “Dancing With the Devil,” which goes in depth about her addiction, past, mental health, and the moments leading up to her near-fatal overdose on July 24, 2018.
“I had a heart attack. I suffered brain damage from the strokes. I can’t drive anymore. And I have blind spots in my own vision,” she notes in the series’ second episode “5 Minutes from Death.” “I also had pneumonia, [be]cause I asphyxiated and multiple organ failure.”
For some, “Dancing With the Devil” may be a difficult story to watch. Lovato, who’d been in the public spotlight since her role in the 2008 Disney Channel television film Camp Rock, reveals immense personal details of her life leading up to the night of overdose and how it shaped her addiction, including past traumatic sexual experiences, and the addictive tragedies that plagued her family long before her own.
For those who have personally suffered similar stories, however, Lovato’s documentary series can be revealing and help remove the stigma of discussing addiction and mental health.
Demi Lovato’s Drug Addiction History
In 2017, Lovato opened up about her history with addiction and her father’s own addiction and substance abuse issues in the YouTube documentary Simply Complicated. One year after the release of Camp Rock, Lovato, then only 16-years old, was living the life of a rising star under the Disney umbrella, which included a professional record deal and touring alongside fellow Disney mega stars The Jonas Brothers.
In the ’17 documentary, Lovato’s longtime manager Phil McIntyre revealed that this meant a “squeaky clean” public image for her, which began to deteriorate as her fame grew. McIntyre says that Lovato had shown signs of depression, such as “sleeping all day,” and struggling with “anger management” issues while touring, which coincided with her experimenting with drugs and alcohol, including cocaine.
“I was with a couple friends, and they introduced me to it,” she said. “I was scared, because my mom always told me your heart could just burst if you do it, but I did it anyways. And I loved it.”
During a stop in Colombia, Lovato had been partying with a small group in a hotel, which they had “trashed.” She was also using Adderall during the incident, which quickly became public knowledge and essentially forced her off the tour.
In November 2010, Lovato checked into rehab for her behavioral and addictive issues, which led to a diagnosis of bipolar personality disorder. Not too long after she had checked out, her addiction habits returned, with her admittedly using cocaine and prescription medications like Xanax at just 18-years old.
Despite repeated attempts to get healthy, including checking into a psychiatric ward, Lovato had continued to abuse drugs and alcohol until her management team issued her an ultimatum, forcing her to choose between their continued partnership. This time, however, her team managed to truly help her curb her addictive personality issues, and in January 2013 Lovato had officially begun a sober living lifestyle.
Lovato’s sober living lifestyle would continue for several years, before her deteriorating mental health led to an eventual relapse.
In the “Dancing With the Devil” premiere, Lovato and her close acquaintances, including her family, talked about Lovato’s visible unhappiness with her lifestyle.
“My team has consisted of assistants, a wellness coach, a dietician, nutritionist, therapist,” she explains. “I’ve had all these people in and out of my life. I feel like decisions have been made for me more so than I’ve made decisions for myself.”
The continued control over Lovato’s lifestyle eventually reached a boiling point. In spring 2018, Lovato explains one afternoon that she was “so miserable. I’m not happy. I have all this stuff that I’m dealing with. I picked up a bottle of red wine that night, and it wasn’t even 30 minutes before I called someone that I knew had drugs on them.”
“I’m surprised I didn’t OD that night,” she says. She had arrived at a party several hours later and happened to run into her former drug dealer, which supplied her essentially with anything she wanted.
“I went on a shopping spree,” she continues, experimenting with drugs she had never done before, including meth. She combined the meth with use of weed, alcohol, Oxycontin, and cocaine. Just two weeks later she introduced heroin and crack cocaine to her use rotation.
Shortly thereafter, Lovato had realized her drug use had developed into a full physical dependency during a trip to Bali (where she wrote her single “Sober“). After returning to her home in Los Angeles, Lovato’s use of hardcore drugs had increased, leading to her July 24, 2018 overdose.
On the morning of July 25, 2018, Lovato’s former assistant Jordan Jackson had arrived to her house to bring her to a pre-scheduled doctor’s appointment. Jackson found Lovato unconscious in her bedroom and “drooling” on the floor. Jackson had informed Max Lea, Lovato’s head of security detail, about the incident to attempt to access the situation before ultimately calling the paramedics on site.
Dr. Shouri Lahiri, the neurologist who treated Lovato, is prominently featured in the series’ second episode “5 Minutes from Death” (featured below). He explains the medical fallout of that night:
“Her oxygen levels when she came to the hospital, they were dangerously low and they were trending down. They were 70 percent. Someone of her health and age, we expect to be closer to 100 percent. ‘Time is brain,’ is what we like to say, and then the longer you go with the brain being starved of essential nutrients, the longer it’s injured, the more difficult is the recovery.”
The team of physicians working to save and treat Lovato had to perform an emergency dialysis, flushing her body’s blood supply to remove the excess toxins that had accumulated from the excessive drug usage. The longer this decision was delayed, the longer her brain would be deprived the nutrients needed to properly heal. And while the procedure was successful, Lovato still suffered from temporary blindness and parts of her vision will never fully return.
Mental Health and Family History
Early on in the “Dancing With the Devil” series, Lovato tells the story of her father. “We had an estranged relationship,” she explains. “So we weren’t close. And growing up, my whole life I longed for that relationship with him, and then I resented him because he was an addict and an alcoholic and was abusive to my mom.”
“His death was very complicated,” she continues, “because we don’t actually know the exact day that he died. All we know is that by the time he was found, his body was too decomposed to have an open casket … And that was the fear that I always had for him, was that he would end up alone. And he did. He died alone.”
Her father battled mental health as well, suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Numerous medical studies have explored the potential connection of addiction to mental health. According to the American Journal of Managed Care, more than 50 percent of subjects suffering from bipolar disorder in a national study had a period of addiction to drugs and/or alcohol in their lifetime.
However, Lovato’s singular struggle with mental health stems even prior to her father’s passing. Growing up, Lovato had participated in beauty pageants alongside her family’s attempts to get her into the world of acting, which included spot appearances on popular children’s television shows like Barney. The competitive world of pageants and child acting had a profoundly destructive impact on her self-worth, she explains, resulting in long periods in which Lovato suffered from eating disorders.
Eating disorders, like mood disorders, have also been found as a link to substance addiction. Studies have found that eating disorders, especially among women, have a much higher correlation rate for those also suffering from substance abuse.
In the third episode of the series, “Reclaiming Power,” Lovato details the that after she made her Disney channel debut, she lost her virginity from non consensual sex.
“I lost my virginity in a rape,” she says. “I internalized it, and I told myself it was my fault because I still went in the room with him. I still hooked up with him. Here was the thing. I was a part of that Disney crowd that publicly said they were waiting till marriage. I didn’t have the romantic first time with anybody.”
“I stopped eating and,” she goes on, “you know, coped in other ways—cutting, throwing up, whatever. My bulimia got so bad that I started throwing up blood for the first time.”
During the night of July 24, 2018, the events tragically replayed. She was informed after she stabilized in the hospital that she was the victim of another non consensual sexual act from the very person who sold her the drugs she eventually overdosed on.
Through Lovato’s rise to fame, her family’s history with substance abuse and addiction, suffering multiple traumatic sexual experiences, and her eventual addiction and overdose, it was clear that the right plan for her had not been figured out just yet.
Lovato’s path to recovery, like many who suffer similar experiences, is not linear. Despite her available resources, Lovato’s hardline period of sobriety was not the proper environment for her to foster long-term stability. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lovato was able to find respite in her own form of forced isolation.
“Even if it’s as small as stretching before bed, things that I just didn’t take time to do before quarantine, I’m now taking time to do,” she explains in the series’ fourth episode, “Rebirth.”
“I was just like, all right, ‘m going to take this time to spend with my family and get to know my boyfriend [and eventual former fiance] and cuddle with my dogs more.”
For Lovato, a chance of normalcy may have been the best remedy for her well-being. Being forced into fame at such an early age put her in a life few can reasonably understand, and the pandemic allowed her to simplify her routine, staying home and being around only close friends and family. And while her relationship with her former fiance did not last, she was able to find a temporal state that works best for her immediate needs.
For those suffering from substance and alcohol addiction, however, proper treatment isn’t always a straightforward path. As well, it can be difficult to face those previous traumas without professional care. At DreamLife Recovery, a personally curated path to substance abuse recovery is a paramount part of the recovery process. If you or a loved one may suffering, please reach out and seek the help that can a true difference today.