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Should Someone Hit “Rock Bottom” Before Going to Addiction Treatment?

by Cedric Dent

July 27, 2022
A man who has hit rock bottom rather than seeking meth addiction treatment, sleeping under a bridge on a flattened, cardboard box.

Myths and Realities of Addicts Hitting “Rock Bottom”

When someone with an addiction to drugs or alcohol hits “rock bottom,” what does that fundamentally mean? It means their life has been drastically impacted by their substance use. Take meth for example. Hitting rock bottom on meth could mean a woman’s lost a job. She may have abandoned relationships and adopted an unhealthy lifestyle. These circumstances would all be attributable to prioritizing the high over other aspects of her life. She may even have had near misses with overdose. In some cases, rock bottom could signify she’s no longer the person she was before frequent meth use. Some believe this is what’s necessary for her to seek meth addiction treatment.

At that point, people theoretically need a drastic change to improve their lives. For many struggling with substance abuse, hitting rock bottom is said to have a positive connotation. This is because, until that point, it was difficult for them to commit to alcohol rehab or opioid treatment. It became clear that going further down could be the end. So the fear of causing more harm to themselves or their loved ones caused them to seek or commit to rehab and medical detox.

Some research has even supported hitting rock bottom because more severe addiction cases were found to be more likely to yield change-seeking behavior. The question is, does the idea of hitting rock bottom apply to everybody, especially in today’s America where there are way more dangerous substances in circulation than at any other time in history? At Landmark Recovery, we don’t believe that anyone has to hit rock bottom before seeking help. In fact, we have evidence that proves seeking treatment in the early stages of an addiction leads to more positive outcomes. 

No One Needs to Hit ‘Rock Bottom’ to Find Recovery from AddictionA disheveled alcoholic staring at a bottle and glass of whiskey at the precipice from which a fall could land him at rock bottom just as quickly as a meth user not seeking meth addiction treatment.

There’s an old saying that someone needs to hit rock bottom before they can successfully overcome substance use disorder. The idea is that someone must be in so much pain and agony that they want to get better. This may have a somewhat positive ring to it, but as a matter of fact, it’s a very dangerous notion. We know from all indications that addiction is a progressive situation, and there’s truly no “rock bottom” unless the individual affected stops digging. 

This idea suggests that friends and family members do not have a say in the lives of people dealing with a form of addiction and that the disease of addiction must run its course, with the hope that the person realizes that they need to seek help instead of dying. The idea implies that people who can provide help to someone suffering from marijuana addiction, for instance, do not need to do so until the individual in question hits their “rock bottom.” 

A collegiate research team in Belgium conducted a study on what the most common turning points were for drug addiction recovery. They used a qualitative research design and an interview method. This allowed for a retrospective approach to gathering recovery narratives. They found what they refer to as “hitting rock bottom” as just one of the top five turning points. That would indicate it’s only representative of about 20% of the statistically correlative turning points toward rehabilitation. The top-ranked turning point was actually adverse drug-induced experiences. The second “key moment of change” was becoming a parent. Hitting rock bottom was listed third. Interestingly, fifth was rehab itself, suggesting it was equally effective to drag unwilling participants into addiction treatment.

Bringing the “Bottom Up”

Consider contemporary treatment methods and increased mortality risks associated with substance abuse. You don’t need to be circumstantially compelled to seek treatment. You want it for yourself, which is what makes recovery feasible in the first place. In order for treatment to work or be effective, the best indicator of success would be if you sought help of your own volition, even with active addiction ongoing. That said, the will to make that decision doesn’t have to come from “hitting rock bottom.” Several loving and supportive approaches can be used to help someone come out of addiction and make a decision to improve their lifestyle. 

For example, the fear of losing a child, a spouse, their job, or going through the courts or criminal justice system may motivate you to visit a substance abuse and alcohol rehabilitation center. Rather than waiting for you to hit “rock bottom”, we can, as they say in recovery circles, bring the bottom up to meet you by highlighting your own discomfort in life to motivate you toward  change. 

Addiction treatment can be highly effective if you have a genuine interest in it. There are many possible sources of motivation for you to engage in treatment. Furthermore, there are several approaches or interventions that loved ones and family members might employ  to change your life regardless of how much you want or need it. Modern addictionologists find that you very well might still be better off in treatment and disgruntled than elsewhere and actively using.

If you are concerned about a loved one’s alcohol or drug use, you can approach them with your concerns and let them understand why they need to change their behavior. You may also reach out to a recovery specialist at 888-448-0302 or via chat at LandmarkRecovery.com. Landmark Recovery offers outpatient rehab as well as residential treatment to recovering substance abusers.

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