Initially, after exiting rehab in early 2011, she felt she held all the answers. Her three months in treatment had led her to believe it was her previously undiagnosed eating and bipolar disorders that were causing her problems. Sure, she had started drinking as a teen, buoyed by her sudden entrée into the cool kids’ club, and after trying cocaine at age 17 she had reached a point where she could barely go an hour without a hit of the drug. But substance abuse, she thought, wasn’t really all that big of an issue for her.
She was only 18, after all, one of the more famous teens running around Hollywood. She should be able to have a little fun. But after a few nights she’d like to forget—and the untimely exit of some 20 sober companions—she realized she would need to leave the party early. “I had to learn the hard way that I can’t do parties anymore,” she told Refinery29 in 2016. “Some people can go out and not be triggered, but that’s not the case for me.”
Those parameters allowed for a few nights out. Though the 25-year-old didn’t miss a beat on her Tell Me You Love Me tour, even performing at the California Mid-State Fair just two days before she was rushed to an L.A. hospital, suffering from an apparent overdose, her decision to mix in some pleasure with her business worried friends. “Demi recently has wanted to be more social and out and about,” one source reveals to E! News, “and has been privately partying more with friends.”
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Between renditions of “Cool for the Summer”, “Heart Attack” and “Confident”, she remained on message with her unflinching brand of honesty, getting emotional about hitting six years of sobriety while on stage in NYC this March. “The reason why I became so open about my story is because I know that there are people here tonight that need to ask for help and I want them to know that it’s OK,” she told the crowd. “Mental health is something that we all need to talk about and we need to take the stigma away from it. So let’s raise the awareness. Let’s let everybody know it’s OK to have a mental illness and addiction problem.”
Even after she confessed to a relapse—eloquently sharing her pain with her June release, “Sober”—she appeared to have a firm grip on her recovery. “Friends wished Demi well after the singer announced she was no longer sober,” says one source, “but conversations with Demi lead them to believe that after her public admissions that she was using again, she was taking the necessary steps needed to become sober once again.”
At a July 19 Post-Prime Day Celebration for Amazon employees, “She sounded amazing,” one concertgoer tells E! News. “Her onstage presence was strong and she put on a great show.” Echoes another onlooker, “You never would have known something was amiss with her.”
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Even when it happened again at her July 22 show—after bungling the lyrics, to off all things, “Sober,” she announced to the crowd, “F–k, I forgot the words!”—it didn’t feel like a huge cause for concern. She had a demanding schedule, after all, with another show slated for July 26 in Atlantic City and a slew of concerts in Latin America kicking off in September.
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When fans questioned her new extracurriculars—say the time she was seen holding a cup filled with yellow liquid while hanging with fellow Disney Channel alum Cole Sprouse, Matthew Scott Montgomery, Debby Ryan and Alyson Stoner, celebrating Hayley Kiyoko‘s new album release—she was quick to deliver one of her signature clapbacks.
“I don’t have to defend anything,” she tweeted, “but it was red bull.”
While Lovato managed to keep up outward appearances as she busied herself with the day-to-day responsibilities of her tour, says a third confidant, “She has definitely been having her ups and downs. She has had really good days where she is perfectly okay and on track and really bad days where her team and friends have been very concerned. Everyone has been urging her to get help with her life coach, and to seek treatment again, but Demi thought she could handle it on her own.”
Steering her own ship, she decided to go out with friends on Monday night, a birthday celebration for her choreographer that led them to West Hollywood’s Saddle Ranch. At the Western-themed spot, a blend of steak dinners and mechanical bull rides, the large group ordered round after round of a party classic. “Demi was taking shots with her friends,” says an onlooker. And while the singer “wasn’t super sloppy or wasted,” notes the witness, “She was definitely drinking. Her friend were cheering her on when she took a shot.”
An odd move, egging on a recovering alcoholic to to imbibe liquor, but this wasn’t her normal crowd, insists a confidant: “She’s been hanging out with the wrong mix of friends who didn’t have her best interest.”
There, says another source, they continued the festivities for 12 straight hours. Quite simply, says the source, “She slipped up and thought she could handle it.”
Her system clearly couldn’t. While it’s unclear what substance led to the frantic 911 call—an insider confirms it wasn’t heroin as was erroneously reported, but Lovato allegedly refused to divulge details to police and first responders—the naloxone that was administered is an opioid-overdose antidote. (The Blast also reported an “item of evidence” related to illegal drugs that are not typically associated with heroin was collected by LAPD on the scene.)
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Their relief to see the Grammy nominee and five-time People’s Choice Awards honoree “awake”, as her rep reported to E! News in a statement Tuesday night was matched only by her own. “This is obviously a huge wake up call,” says the source. “Demi doesn’t want to die and she’s very grateful to be alive.”
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While this is often clearly one in all Lovato’s scarier slip, it’s nothing that she can’t handle. “It’s a daily journey and it’s undoubtedly getting to be a struggle that I’ll need to touch upon for the remainder of my life,” she told E! News back in 2011, whereas discussing her single, “Skyscraper”, a track dripping with metaphors regarding her rise from all-time low. “Sometimes i believe, ‘Why couldn’t I even have been normal?’”
Instead, she’ll need to settle with being your customary, fallible human, albeit one with a strong message and therefore the power to influence.
“I’m not getting to be good,” she told E! News, “but…if I will build it through the day, that’s all that matters.”
Truer words might ne’er are spoken.