Dr. Edward A. Selby, Ph.D.
What would it take for you to realize that drugs have ruined your life? Would it involve getting arrested or losing your job? Or would it be a divorce or estrangement from friends or other loved ones? Each person has different values and will tolerate different levels of life destruction arising from drug use before they finally realize how bad things have gotten. This point is often referred to as hitting “rock bottom.” Historically, and mistakenly, it was once that people had to hit rock bottom before they would agree to get help. Yet, attempting to define an individual’s personal rock bottom experience can be a challenge because what might be a disaster for one person (e.g., getting fired) might not be the worst that can happen for someone else. The rock bottom concept is also misleading because ANY negative outcome arising from drug use represents an opportunity to get help! Thus, while traditional wisdom regarding addiction treatment suggests that people need to hit rock bottom before they can stop using drugs and change (Wilkens & Foote, 2019), in reality, we want people to get drug rehab BEFORE drugs have seriously damaged their lives! So, if you or a loved one is having problems with drugs, don’t wait for addiction to cause worse problems, get evaluated and treated as soon as possible.
Is Hitting Rock Bottom Really Necessary on the Road to Recovery?
The old saying of hitting rock bottom was originally meant to help get people with addiction to recognize the damage drugs have done to their lives. The rock bottom concept has become a major problem today because many people now mistakenly believe that hitting rock bottom is necessary for someone to finally seek treatment. However, it turns out that this is untrue, and most people addicted to drugs consider seeking treatment at various turning points as their substance use disorder progresses (Bellaert et al., 2022). Sometimes an individual is not ready to seek help; but other times they may feel a desire for treatment but they are nervous, ashamed, or discouraged to seek help and delay seeking treatment. This is where the rock bottom concept was meant to help, to give an addicted individual some perspective, especially in cases where someone’s life is so destroyed that they have no other options left but to seek help. While some people may get to this stage before realizing they need help, we don’t want to encourage people to wait this long for help since recovery can be challenging for anyone, and even more so for someone who has really hit rock bottom.