The idea that someone addicted to alcohol or drugs has to hit rock bottom before they can get treatment is a dangerous misconception.
It’s commonly assumed that for addiction treatment to work, it must be voluntary; the person will hit bottom, realize that they have made a mess of their life, and want to change. However, studies done by the National Institute on Drug Abuse show that the outcomes for those who are legally forced to enter treatment are similar to the outcomes for those who enter treatment voluntarily.
On the other hand, addiction affects a person’s well-being emotionally, physically, psychologically, spiritually, economically, and socially. When a person has had a great loss in one or more of these categories, they may be more apt to seek treatment.
It is heart-wrenching to watch someone we love struggle with an addiction.
Waiting around for them to hit bottom is most likely not the right thing to do. One of the problems with this is that each time a person uses, something triggers in the brain that makes it more difficult to stop. The longer the addiction goes on, the more difficult it is to treat.
Addiction is a disease of the brain. When an individual initially begins drinking alcohol or using drugs, they are not addicted. Over time, consistent use of high doses causes changes in the brain. Anyone suffering from a chronic disease such as heart disease, cancer, Crohn’s disease, or any of the other chronic diseases does not wait until it has become devastatingly horrible to seek treatment. As with all chronic diseases, the outcome is better if treated early.
Another problem with the idea of hitting rock bottom is that no one person’s bottom is the same.
It is difficult to know when someone has hit rock bottom because it comes in many forms. For some, it is losing an important relationship. It can be losing a job that gets one to look at their addiction and seek help. For some, it may take losing custody of their children to get help for themselves. Some people lose everything–their home, their family, their job, their health–and still that is not enough to make them want to stop using. Someone else may just be sick and tired of being sick and tired, and decide to get help.
It is often necessary for someone to hit some kind of bottom to want to change and put forth the enduring effort that long-term recovery requires. That bottom does not have to be devastating. That bottom could come in an intervention. Showing the person with the addiction that you care about them and want them to get help may be enough to open their eyes. Addiction affects all of the people involved, and loved ones get hurt the most. It is a difficult position to be in, but helping your addicted loved one to get treatment instead of waiting for them to hit a bottom and want treatment may save their life.