Biggest Revelations from Demi Lovato’s Docuseries About Addiction, Overdose, and the Brain

Demi Lovato's Docuseries

On July 24, 2018, pop superstar Demi Lovato woke up in a hospital after overdosing on heroin she says was likely laced with fentanyl. The near-death overdose caused three strokes, a heart attack, and damage to her brain that’s left her with visual problems. How could the singer’s life have derailed so dangerously after being sober for six years?

She reveals what drove her to overdose in her new 4-part docuseries, “Demi Lovato: Dancing With the Devil,” which premiered on YouTube on March 23, 2021. In the raw and wrenching series, she says she wanted to “set the record straight about what happened” when she OD’d. What unfolds is a heartbreaking story that sheds light on how crippling addiction can be.

Here are 5 insights you can learn about substance abuse and overdoses from this gripping docuseries.

1. Addiction is generational.

Lovato’s story is one the psychiatrists and brain imaging specialists at Amen Clinics hear far too often from patients—a parent’s addiction leads to a child experiencing feelings of abandonment and rejection and eventually falling into addiction themselves. It’s a generational cycle of addiction that is commonly seen in psychiatric circles. In the words of Daniel Amen, MD, the founder of Amen Clinics and author of Your Brain Is Always Listening, the children of alcoholics and drug abusers become filled with inner Dragons from the Past that breathe fire on the emotional centers of the brain and drive anxiety, depression, and addiction. It creates a cycle of addiction that is hard to break. At one point in Lovato’s life, she took a hard look at her behavior—drinking vodka at 9 AM from a Sprite bottle—and realized “I’m just like my Dad.”

2. Unresolved past traumas can fuel addictive behaviors.

In Dancing with the Devil, Lovato describes how she “never took the time to dig deep and work on the trauma” she had experienced in her life. She was estranged from her father, who was an alcoholic and abusive to Lovato’s mother. The young star cut him out of her life, but the emotional trauma she felt from that harmful relationship drove her to use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate.

3. Addicts are very skilled at hiding their behavior.

In Lovato’s docuseries, she says she admitted to friends that she was drinking alcohol and smoking weed again, but she hid the fact that she had started using hard drugs—cocaine, MDMA (ecstasy), methamphetamine, crack, oxycontin, and heroin. She says she was “very good at hiding the fact I was addicted to crack and heroin.” But there was a toll to keeping that secret. “Any time you suppress a part of yourself, at some point it’s gonna overflow. And that’s ultimately what happened to me,” she says.

4. The pressure to be perfect can contribute to relapse.

Lovato has emerged as an advocate for mental health and has openly talked about not only her addiction, but also her struggles with an eating disorder, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder (she now says she was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder, which is common, and actually has ADHD), and other issues. “Mental health is something that we all need to talk about, and we need to take the stigma away from it,” she says. Her efforts are admirable but being put in a position as a role model created undue pressure for her to seek perfection. “I felt like I had to be this perfect role model,” says the singer, who thinks it played a role in her relapse.

5. Addiction and overdoses damage the brain.

In discussing what happened to Lovato after the overdose, one of her doctors says, “Time is brain.” Lovato’s oxygen levels were dangerously low, meaning her brain wasn’t getting the oxygen it needs to function. The longer a person goes with the brain being starved of the nutrients it needs, the greater the risk for lasting damage and a tougher recovery. Lovato’s brain suffered damage from three strokes, and she has residual issues in the vision centers in the back part of the brain. Lovato now suffers from blind spots and can no longer drive.

The brain SPECT imaging work at Amen Clinics shows how devasting addiction and strokes can be to the brain. They cause reduced blood flow to the brain, which has been associated with depression, ADD/ADHD, suicidal thoughts, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse, and more. It’s also the #1 brain imaging predictor that a person will develop Alzheimer’s disease.

Addictions, bipolar disorder, ADD/ADHD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. During these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting until life gets back to “normal” is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.

At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

14 Comments

  1. I need help! I’ve bought the book, The Brain is Always Listening. I missed out on the presentation held on March 17,2021. I was signed up but I couldn’t get on Zoom. I’d like to try the the hypnosis that you talk about. I live in Lincolnton, NC, so I’m close to Atlanta and could travel there. I can also do online with someone, a specialist. Just let me know the best way to proceed and thank you in advance for your guidance! DB

    Comment by Deborah Beech — April 2, 2021 @ 4:23 AM

  2. Demi is brave to share her story with everyone. Sometimes it is hard enough just to admit it to yourself. Our lives are definitely a ripple effect from childhood and wanting to b perfect for various reasons, and when we aren’t it can be hard to cope. I admire her for being an advocate for mental health. There is a stigma attached to it and we need to realize we are not broken we are just trying to understand why this happened to us.

    Comment by Wendy — April 2, 2021 @ 5:20 AM

  3. i am adhd i hsve been on adrenal off and on for yrs i function 100 percent better with it then with out but i do find myself taking one moe then in supposed to. 20 mg is what i n twice a day i think i should be on 30 twice a day i am 70 yrs old what is your thoughts please

    Comment by Lynda — April 2, 2021 @ 6:37 AM

  4. Please open an Amen clinic in Florida

    Comment by Tina — April 2, 2021 @ 8:46 AM

  5. Great article. Thank you for posting.

    Comment by Timothy Lee — April 2, 2021 @ 9:13 AM

  6. I NEVER knew this. thank you for your service!!

    Comment by Nanvi Carter Stewart — April 2, 2021 @ 10:51 AM

  7. Hello Deborah. If you have concerns about COVID-19, or if you simply want the convenience of staying at home, we are offering Telehealth and Video Therapy options. For more information about Telehealth: https://www.amenclinics.com/services/telehealth-and-video-therapy/. For more information, please contact our Care Coordinators: https://www.amenclinics.com/schedule-visit/.

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 2, 2021 @ 11:13 AM

  8. This was a great article, and Demi is an awesome woman who has the courage to share her story so that others know they are not alone. After my cancer treatment I had to deal with post traumatic issues and came to understand that the brain is a body part and gets sick just as the heart, lungs, etc. I don’t understand why the American medical field does not treat it as “just another body part that needs preventive treatment”. Dr. Amen’s presentations and books have helped me tremendously. I am reading “Your Brain Is Always Listening” and highly recommend it as a must read.

    Comment by Mary Jo — April 2, 2021 @ 5:57 PM

  9. I have read alot about exosomes to heal the body. I hope that exosomes will soon be used to heal the brain. Maybe Dr Amen can provide an article about the use of exosomes.

    Comment by Jill — April 2, 2021 @ 5:57 PM

  10. I have recently been diagnosed with treatment resistant depression and I am facing the decision to try either TMS or ECT. What are Dr. Amen’s thoughts about treatment resistant depression and TMS and ECT? Which is better?

    Comment by Sherry — April 3, 2021 @ 7:15 AM

  11. I’m interested in tele health fir now. I live in Charleston, SC. I’ve been in so many meds but still depressed.

    Comment by Rebecca Putman — April 4, 2021 @ 2:56 PM

  12. Thanks for this brutally honest story, but true recovery starts w being completely honesty

    Comment by Geoff — April 5, 2021 @ 6:09 AM

  13. Hello Rebecca, thanks for reaching out. If you have concerns about COVID-19, or if you simply want the convenience of staying at home, we are offering Telehealth and Video Therapy options. For more information about Telehealth: https://www.amenclinics.com/services/telehealth-and-video-therapy/

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 5, 2021 @ 11:17 AM

  14. Hello Sherry. We have some more blogs with information regarding TMS: https://www.amenclinics.com/?s=tms

    Comment by Amen Clinics — April 5, 2021 @ 1:59 PM

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