For years in both addiction treatment and the recovery community, there was a theory that an individual needed to hit ‘rock bottom’ in addiction in order to find recovery from addiction or alcoholism. The idea of “rock bottom” in addiction is that an individual has no further down to go in their active addiction or alcoholism. “Rock Bottom” is the inflection point in active alcoholism or addiction, where someone gets so bad that they are forced to change their life and find recovery. The terms “rock bottom” often sounds bad, although when speaking to someone living life in recovery, they may often say that their “rock bottom” was the best thing that ever happened to them, because they ran out of excuses or delusions and were forced to take action to better their life, get sober, and begin a life of recovery.
So, while the idea of “rock bottom” can be a positive thing, there is little question that the term “rock bottom” often carries with it a very negative connotation. It is also the basis for other addiction and recovery-related ideas such as telling parents that enabling their child is allowing them to further active addiction, or that people can’t recover until they have hit a “rock bottom.” That last idea just certainly isn’t true.
The truth of “rock bottom” in addiction is that not everyone needs to hit a “bottom” to change their life, and furthermore, that no matter how bad a “rock bottom” looks in active addiction, there can always be worse outcomes or consequences.
The idea of “rock bottom”, while good intentioned, just isn’t a concept that is accurate. Especially now, with addiction becoming more deadly than ever, more dangerous substances being more available to people, and over 100,000 Americans dying of deadly drug overdoses in a year’s time, the concept of “rock bottom” can be very dangerous for someone in active addiction or alcoholism.
There is also a fairly well-known saying in the rooms of recovery. That saying is that someone’s “rock bottom” is when they “stop digging.” This means that there is truly no such thing as a bottom, but rather someone creates their own “bottom” when they stop doing that which is detrimental to them and instead take action to overcome addiction and improve their life. This idea echoes the sentiment that there isn’t truly a “rock bottom” in addiction, but rather a person can create their own bottom or point of inflection when they decide they no longer wish to live the life they are living in active addiction and instead ask for help, take action, and begin to make better choices that support health and wellness.
The idea of someone suffering from addiction or substance use disorder needing to hit “rock bottom” is an old, antiquated notion that is dangerous, especially during the current time period with illicit drugs such as fentanyl causing so many fatal and non-fatal overdoses. While the concept makes sense, and the ideology of “rock bottom” often is an instance that a person suffering from addiction does begin to change their life, the idea of “rock bottom” suggests that family, friends, and loved ones have no part to play in changing the direction of a person’s life in active addiction and should instead take a “hands-off” approach. Furthermore, this idea suggests that the best someone can hope for is that the disease of addiction will run its course, and hopefully the person finds the need to change instead of dying. However, we also know that addiction is a progressive, potentially fatal illness, so the idea that nothing can be done but wait till a person can hit “rock bottom” is incorrect. This concept is similar to other faulty ideas related to addiction, such as “a person needs to want recovery in order to recover”, “someone needs to want it for themselves and will not recover for any other reason,” or “for treatment to work or be effective, an individual needs to willingly seek help.” While just like “rock bottom”, these ideas are meant with good intentions, they simply are not accurate.
There are many approaches and interventions that family, friends, and loved ones can take in order to try to change the trajectory of someone’s active addiction. These approaches can be loving and supportive, while also being truthful and direct. Another saying is the rooms of recovery talks about “bringing someone’s bottom up”, meaning that through different attempts to support recovery, loved ones can intervene to create enough discomfort in the life of the person in active addiction that they are motivated for change. This does not necessarily mean things like cutting off that person or not communicating with them, but it can include holding certain boundaries. This furthers the notion that someone in active addiction doesn’t necessarily need to go to treatment “for themselves” or because they want to. The overall understanding is that addiction treatment is effective, and there are many reasons a person can get to treatment and engage in treatment, no matter how much they want it or think they need it. Whether an individual seeks and accepts help because they want it and they want to change, through family or professional interventions, through fear of losing a spouse or child, concern of losing a job, or through the courts or criminal justice system, the reason that they go to treatment and become interested in a life of recovery is of no matter or consequence. The importance is that they are engaging in a process of treatment and recovery.
As a society, we need to stop waiting for individuals suffering from substance use disorder and addiction to hit “rock bottom”, and instead support loved ones in taking healthy, supportive approaches that help motivate those in active addiction to find the willingness to engage in the transformational process of recovery. The majority of individuals in active addiction don’t want to seek help for many reasons- fear of change, fear of what their life will look like without drugs and alcohol, fear of not being able to stay sober, feelings of unworthiness, guilt, shame, or remorse, or because through drugs and alcohol they are self-medicating other mental health issues or trauma. It is important to understand that the population suffering from addiction is a resistant population, for many good reasons. However, that does not mean we let the disease of addiction run its course and let them hit rock bottom. Instead, we must find ways to support them in seeking help and engaging in treatment and recovery, through interventions, love, support, and approaches that help them find the hope and self-efficacy needed to find recovery. The concept of “rock bottom” is far too dangerous. Instead, individuals in active addiction must be pulled with a vision- that recovery is possible, that recovery is available, that recovery is obtainable, and that the life they will find in recovery is wonderfully beyond anything that they could possibly imagine while in the grips of drugs and alcohol.
If you or someone you know needs help for addiction or co-occurring disorders, please give us a call. Innovo Detox offers the latest in evidence-based medical, psychiatric, and clinical care for those in need of detox and medical stabilization in Pennsylvania and the surrounding Mid-Atlantic area. If we aren’t the best fit for you or a loved one, we will take the necessary time to work with you to find a detox, rehab, treatment center or provider that better fits your needs. Please give us a call at (717) 619-3260 or email our team at [email protected]. For more information on our company or services, please visit our website at www.innovodetox.com.