The idea that a person suffering from substance abuse has to reach rock bottom before seeking treatment can be dangerously misleading.
Not only is rock bottom hard to qualify, but it’s also not absolute. Furthermore, waiting for yourself or a loved one to hit rock bottom could lead to a fatal ending.
What Exactly Is Rock Bottom?
Rock bottom refers to the idea of a person hitting the lowest point in their addiction. In some cases, people hitting rock bottom recognize their dire circumstances and the need to change.
Rock bottom is different for everyone. Common examples include being arrested, suffering an overdose, losing a job, losing custody of children, etc.
The problem with rock bottom is that many people assume this is a needed step in the journey of recovery, relying on this moment to encourage the fight to change. Unfortunately, the common perception of rock bottom is a myth. Rock bottom implies a solitary moment. In truth, a person can experience many rock bottoms.
Rock Bottom Often Manifests Through Shame
One of the ways rock bottom manifests is through feelings of shame. Someone with a substance use disorder might think:
- “How did I let myself get this way?”
- “I must be a worthless person.”
- “I’ve screwed things up beyond repair.”
Thoughts like these only increase self-shaming and often lead to further substance abuse in order to escape the overwhelming burden of self-loathing.
On the other side of that, loved ones witnessing the downward spiral might feel the need to use shame as a way to convince the person they need help. According to a Psychology Today article, however, shaming as a way of fixing dysregulated behavior is not the answer.
Shaming is an act of making a person feel humiliated or that their behavior is unacceptable. While it may seem like the natural answer, breaking down a person who is already suffering from substance abuse only makes things worse. Shaming someone into quitting is a manipulative effort that has been shown to only increase dysregulated behavior.
What people need in the direst of times is a rekindling of hope—not a strengthening of doubt.
Waiting for a Loved One to Hit Rock Bottom
It might seem like a good idea to wait until your loved one has reached a point of no return before intervening, but this is a risky endeavor. Waiting can prove fatal. In 2016 alone, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, some 64,000 deaths caused by overdose were reported.
As hard as it may seem to confront a loved one, it is critical to understand the possible consequences. Substance abuse is the result of emotional, psychological, and/or spiritual deprivation. Rock bottom has already occurred at the time of picking up the drink or the drug. If you understand this, your perception of the situation can be more attuned to the needs of your loved one and can help in resisting the urge to shame.
If you’re afraid to approach your loved one, you don’t have to go it alone. There are plenty of professional interventionists and services that can help to set up a successful intervention.
Rock Bottom Has Many Different Forms
According to an article in the Huffington Post, the longer you wait for someone to hit rock bottom, the sicker they will get. Early intervention cannot guarantee a successful recovery, but waiting can lead to irreparable damage.
In a study released by the U.S. National Study of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that there was no difference in success rates between non-coerced and coerced recovery. In other words, if a person is going to recover, going to jail or not going to jail is not going to necessarily up success rates. In this case, there stands no reason to wait.
Raising the Bottom
Perhaps rather than waiting for the stereotypical bottoming out, such as an accidental, nonfatal overdose, or landing in jail, you can try finding a way to raise the bottom. When minor changes in daily life are perceived by the user as disruptive, this can inspire a desire to seek treatment without the person having to suffer major consequences.
It’s not uncommon for people suffering from substance abuse disorders to feel that the worst possible case scenario would be for one of their loved ones to find out that they are using, especially in the case of illicit drugs like heroin or methamphetamine. They are already ashamed of their use and living in fear that at any moment they could be found out.
If done right, intervening sooner can show that person a light before the darkness consumes them. The longer substance use persists, the more desperate a person will become in both consuming and obtaining the drug. More desperation leads to more shame, which creates a wicked cycle.