Why Hitting “Rock Bottom” Is a Myth?

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The idea of hitting “rock bottom” has been tossed around for years. Many believe that it should look a certain way. It creates this idea that the individual gets to decide when and what their rock bottom is as if it is a behavioral issue made obvious when the time comes calling.

The truth is that addiction is very sneaky, and despite what treatment centers want to call rock bottom, you may have had a substance use disorder (SUD) for years and are using this idea of rock bottom to reduce or avoid discontinuing use. While you may appear functionally well addicted to alcohol, what’s happening to your liver or brain? The real issue might be that you need to admit you need help. Perhaps you need to express to someone — such as a close friend, family member, or trusted co-worker — the reality of your situation. This is where White House Recovery comes in. 

The concept of rock bottom is one-dimensional and often relates to the behavioral side of addiction.

What Does Rock Bottom Look Like?

When a person talks about their rock bottom, they might paint a picture of a moment where they realized, in that very moment, they lost everything and knew immediately they needed to make a change. They might tell a story about loss, injury, and near-death experiences. The story they tell is supposed to both inspire you and scare you. This is what could happen to you if you hit your rock bottom.

While a rock bottom story might make for a great motivational speech or scare tactic, it isn’t a realistic or universal approach. It doesn’t paint an accurate or fair depiction of what addiction is like for everyone and when addiction is a problem. Our vision of rock bottom might work to scare people away from using illicit drugs, but it has no impact on socially acceptable substances like cannabis and alcohol.  

The Harm Is Already Happening

Suppose you haven’t experienced all of the hallmarks that come with hitting rock bottom. You haven’t lost your house. You still have a stable job. Your friends still talk to you. Your partner hasn’t left you. You aren’t dead. You’re functioning, and that’s what counts, right? Wrong.

Substance Use Hurts Your Body

Even if your substance use seems mild to you, it still affects your body. Long-term alcohol use can cause skin problems, liver damage, heart damage, and memory loss. Additionally, chronic cannabis use can lead to an increased risk of cancer risk and lead to psychological dependence. The use of heroin increases the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS and hepatitis. Even mild cocaine use can put you at risk for heart problems and stroke. Using substances at a younger age can impact brain development.

The Myth of Functioning Under the Influence of Alcohol

Addiction still causes harm even if everything in your life seems fine. However, there is no such thing as a “functioning alcoholic.” Relying on substances to get through your day or have fun isn’t functioning. It’s common for people to make the assumption that if their substance use isn’t negatively impacting their life, then it’s not an addiction. Then they rely on their own idea of what that means. To them, they haven’t experienced significant loss, so it’s not an addiction. It’s been worse before, and they aren’t at that level. However, it is negatively affecting their life, and they’re actively ignoring it.

For example, you might drink or smoke cannabis to deal with your mental health. Without smoking every single day, you feel the negative effects on your mental health. You rely on alcohol to be social at a party. Sobriety makes you feel bored at best or mentally unstable at worst. You can’t work for a higher-paying job because they require a drug test. That’s fine, you’ll just work somewhere else. You’re functioning.

Opens Those With Hidden Addiction to Discrimination

The idea of a rock bottom impacts a person’s ability to receive support from friends, family, and mental healthcare. Well-intentioned friends might miss the signs that the person they care about needs care immediately. What’s worse is that when a person with addiction confides in a trusted person about their hunch that they might have a problem, instead of receiving support, a person might tell them, “Well, you don’t seem like you have a problem.” This, instead, places doubt in their mind. 

Seeking help for addiction is already a major risk. A person could put their career on hold, impact their image, and rack up thousands of dollars in medical bills if they seek addiction treatment. This person isn’t going to want to risk all of that if they aren’t sure that they have a problem. Instead, they put off help.

Now, suppose a person does decide to seek treatment. They reach out to a clinic or talk to a doctor, someone they trust to have authority in their field. The doctor or clinic asks them basic questions, such as how often they use, what their home environment is like, and how substance use has impacted their life. One would hope that a doctor would notice even the smallest problem as a red flag, but sometimes that isn’t the case. Since the addiction is mild or seen as manageable, they might not get referred or admitted.

Rock Bottom Ignores Basic Psychology

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a psychological theory about how a person can grow and stay motivated to address a higher need. The basic idea is that people who are concerned about meeting their basic needs are unable to focus on things like self-actualization and self-esteem. Instead, they need to focus on surviving to see the next day. Maslow’s Hierarchy is built to represent a pyramid that represents different levels of needs a person needs to live a fulfilling life. At the bottom are physiological needs, and at the top are transcendent needs, also known as spiritual needs.

This directly conflicts with the idea of rock bottom because when we imagine rock bottom, we imagine a person who has lost everything because of addiction. They don’t have a home, a car, or a support system. They might be experiencing a prison sentence where their safety is on the line or dealing with financial trouble where their security is threatened. When a person is experiencing these hardships, they can’t focus on addiction recovery, which requires the ability to focus on social belonging, self-esteem, self-actualization, and spirituality. They need to address the present problems that are essential to their survival.

Homelessness, Addiction, and Maslows Hierarchy

A glaring example of this in action is the addiction crisis currently affecting the homeless population. It’s estimated that 38% of the homeless population has an alcohol addiction, and 46% have a drug addiction. If the rock bottom myth was true, those experiencing homelessness should be rushing to get treatment. Losing shelter because of addiction should be a classic example of being at rock bottom, right? However, this isn’t the reality of addiction and homelessness at all. Homelessness isn’t always the result of addiction, and often it’s the other way around. Though, sometimes people can lose housing as a result of addiction, creating an endless cycle.

This is proven through outreach programs that take a housing-first approach when it comes to helping the homeless population battle addiction and mental health. The idea is that instead of the typical program expecting recipients to complete a treatment program before receiving housing, the program gives them stable shelter and allows them to seek treatment. The original fear when the housing-first approach was tested was that those who received housing wouldn’t seek treatment because they had no incentive. What they actually found was that there was a reduction in severe addiction.

Assumes A Person Can’t Shake Addiction Unless They Face Punishment

The rock bottom myth is punitive in nature. It supports the belief that a person isn’t going to seek help and support until they’ve “learned their lesson.” In order for a person to need help or realize they need help, they have to experience trauma. This only reinforces the stigma of addiction and the assumption that a person with a disease needs to face karma before they make a change.

Assuming a person will only change their behavior after hitting rock bottom ignores that some people who use substances in a harmful way are aware that they have a problem. Not everyone who is actively addicted is in denial of their addiction. They are aware that their substance use is a problem. They are just unable to get help for a variety of reasons that are completely unrelated to any moral or behavioral failure but rather the actual biological and psychological nature of addiction and mental health.

The Real Reality of Relapse

This myth is also harmful to those who have relapsed even after they experienced what they thought was their rock bottom. A person could have had an incredibly traumatic experience as a result of their substance use, sought help, got better, or entered recovery only to relapse. The entire time in treatment, they heard phrases like “it gets better” and “finally hitting your rock bottom,” thinking that treatment was their turning point.

This mentality only keeps people in denial, assuming they are on the verge of relapse because their current state isn’t close to their rock bottom. Therefore, it is not a serious problem and causes people to feel ashamed when they relapse because they view themselves as morally defective.

In treatment programs that aren’t honest about the reality of relapse or act as if relapse isn’t an option or possibility, the people that leave treatment are unaware of the signs that a physical relapse is about to occur. Relapse isn’t just a person taking substances and then sobriety is broken forever. The stages of relapse occur a lot earlier, and because the person is under the impression that they are cured, they don’t catch it early enough.

Relapse occurs in three stages: emotional, mental, and physical. Most only recognize relapse when they reach the physical state or break sobriety. What they don’t know is that relapse can occur well before a person starts using substances again.

Emotional Relapse: Self Isolation and Emotional Neglect

A person is experiencing emotional relapse when they begin isolating themselves, bottling up or ignoring their emotions, neglecting their needs, or stop interacting with their recovery community authentically. You might notice that your friend has stopped attending recovery meetings or seems withdrawn, but you put it aside because maybe they’re just having a bad day, week, or year. They aren’t asking for support, so they must not need it.

Mental Relapse: Bargaining With Yourself

The next stage of relapse is mental relapse, which is when the person starts having cravings or they start bargaining with themselves: one drink won’t hurt, maybe I’m too hard on myself, or I deserve at least one drink, right? 

You believe that you can control your substance use now, maybe as long as you only do it on certain occasions. You might think about the feeling of using that drug or drinking alcohol and how great it made you feel before. You might fight it for a while, but then, one day, you give in.

Physical Relapse: When We Stop Ignoring The Red Flags

That’s when you experience physical relapse. You’ve broken your sobriety. You don’t have as much control over it as you thought. You’re filled with shame and embarrassment. You’re afraid to admit that you’ve slipped up. You think I had one drink and broke sobriety; what’s another three drinks at this point? Now you’ve re-entered a full-blown addiction. The issue is that breaking your sobriety was a long time coming and because you weren’t aware of the early signs, you and your support system couldn’t intervene.  

The belief that it can’t get worse causes people to minimize their current problems. They ignore the red flags because they genuinely believe that it can’t get worse. Instead of confronting the issues initially and reaching out, they ignored the signs until it was too late. It’s not completely their fault, but rather the myth that they could only go up from their rock bottom.

Addiction Treatment Shouldn’t Stick to Stereotypes

The idea of rock bottom is influenced by media, which perpetuates stereotypes and stigmas. It doesn’t follow logic, psychology, or biology. It sets people up for failure and allows those struggling with addiction to completely blame themselves for their predicaments. They feel like they only have themselves to blame for some moral failure or behavioral issue. That’s not how treatment should make you feel. 

Treatment should be empowering and realistic. It should equip people with the tools that they need to get better and also equip them with the truth that addiction is a lifelong and chronic condition. There isn’t a set rock bottom. It can get worse. While that isn’t ideal to hear, it’s the reality of the situation.

When seeking treatment, you should choose a treatment center that takes you seriously despite what your life might look like on the outside. Even if your life isn’t in shambles, but you feel you might drink or use substances a little bit too much, seek treatment. Don’t put it off until this mythical time comes that wakes you up because there’s a chance that things might get a lot worse than you realize. Additionally, the rock bottom you’re waiting for could mean painful trauma or, worse, the end of your life.

Rock bottom doesn’t capture the reality of addiction. All it does is cause people to put off seeking help until things get extremely out of hand. You might be unaware that you’re experiencing a problem. You believe that it could be worse; therefore, it’s not really a problem. This can be an extremely damaging mindset, allowing you to experience an unnecessary amount of hardship, trauma, and pain that only makes your mental health worse. White House Recovery and Detox doesn’t rely on catchy phrases or euphemisms when we tackle treatment. Addiction recovery is serious, and so is treatment. The only thing that matters during recovery is the truth, and a rock-bottom approach simply isn’t an accurate depiction. If you want a realistic approach to treatment, White House Recovery in Los Angeles is for you. To learn more about how we can help, call us today at (800) 510-5393.