Demi Lovato on Her Mental Health & Addiction Issues: 'I Didn't Think I Would Make It to 21'

Demi Lovato attends the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards
Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Demi Lovato attends the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Aug. 30, 2015 in Los Angeles.

In her cover story for American Way, pop star Demi Lovato recalls the steps that led up to her current worldwide stardom and influential power as a mental health advocate.

Lovato began her career in entertainment as a child, acting on Barney & Friends and competing in beauty pageants. “My body-image awareness started way before that,” said the pop star. “But I do attribute a little of my insecurities to being onstage and judged for my beauty.”

The artist recalls growing up in a home with a father who suffered from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and alcoholism and a mother who was bulimic, which eventually passed down the family line to Lovato. “Being around somebody who was 80 pounds and had an active eating disorder … it’s hard not to grow up like that.”

With un-addressed body issues -- Lovato began binge-eating and cutting herself at age 9 -- on top of rising fame due to her role as Mitchie Torres in Camp Rock at age 15, it was only natural that the young star’s insecurities grew, causing greater addictions. Once Lovato gained her own show on Disney Channel, Sonny with a Chance, along with a tour with the Jonas Brothers, the pop star had financial responsibility for her whole family, leading to self-medication for her problems in her private life through alcohol, cocaine and OxyContin.

“I lived fast and I was going to die young,” said Lovato. “I didn’t think I would make it to 21.”

Lovato recalls her first attempt at getting help by going to rehab in the Midwest. The short treatment diagnosed Lovato with bipolar disorder and helped treat her bulimia. Soon, Lovato went back to old habits. “Once I started eating again, the other issues got worse. It was like whack-a-mole.” 

The pop star got help by living at a West Hollywood sober house for a year, and it was in that break from the spotlight that Lovato realized her responsibility to be an advocate for young girls with self-image issues and to raise awareness on mental illness.

“When I have meet-and-greets, I can’t tell you the amount of times that girls will show me their arms covered in scars or cuts,” said Lovato. “They’ll tell me, ‘You helped me get through this. Because of you, I stopped self-harming,’ or ‘I got sober.’ Hearing those things gave my life new meaning.”

Read the entire interview with Lovato on how she finds therapy in her music and in being brutally honest about herself at AmericanWayMagazine.com

Plus: Demi Lovato Performs 'Cool for the Summer' at Billboard Music Awards