For some reason, the term “rock bottom” and addiction have become synonymous. This could be due to stigma or stereotype as if there is a universal definition. However, addiction and rock bottom don’t share a definition. So, why would you waste your time going to some cookie-cutter treatment center to diagnose and treat you with a plan shaped by the stigma? Yes, healthcare professionals can be guilty of believing in the stigmas too.
The best approach is to choose a facility like White House Recovery and Detox that understands the flaws in the industry and has implemented ways to correct these flaws to ensure you get the best treatment. Together, let’s set out to change the narrative that the definitions of rock bottom and addiction are not universal.
How Rock Bottom Promotes Addiction Stigma
When healthcare professionals and treatment centers talk about rock bottom, they can reinforce assumptions and stereotypes that can affect the level of care someone gets and the outlook on people who have an addiction. For one thing, the concept of rock bottom promotes the idea that addiction looks and acts the same in every single person. If a person doesn’t fit this narrow definition of rock bottom and addiction, then they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Rock bottom also reinforces a punitive perspective. The assumption is that people won’t seek help for their addiction because they haven’t hit rock bottom yet. In order for them to get out of denial and get the help they need, something horrible has to happen to them. Sometimes people even believe that those who don’t get help for their addiction deserve to experience rock bottom as a form of karma. The thought is, “Well, maybe when they hit rock bottom, then they’ll understand that they have a problem.”
Addiction Can Look Different for Everyone
Subscribing to the concept of rock bottom risks ignoring how different addiction can look based on age, race, gender, sexuality, job, and economic class. Anything that doesn’t fit that baseline is written off as either not being a real problem or only being a moral failing.
Stereotype implies that college students who binge-drink at parties or take Adderall to study aren’t taken seriously because that’s just the typical college experience. “Wine and cannabis moms” that use substances in order to cope with the responsibilities and stress of work and home are seen as silly and quirky. People arrested for possession, and face judicial punishment are labeled as a criminal and given less empathy. Any time they serve is just a byproduct of their decisions.
Some groups are completely out of the picture. Most don’t even consider how addiction affects elderly persons who often develop an addiction to pain medication. Substance use is considered standard practice in industries like food service, entertainment, and business. People in lower economic classes are cast off and labeled with derogatory terms like “meth-head” or “crack-head.” The real issue is completely ignored- these people are dealing with a chronic disease that needs to be treated and is negatively impacting their life.
Your Picture of Rock Bottom Might Not Fit Reality
We’re all spoonfed the same idea of what rock bottom looks like by media depictions of addiction. Since we have a pre-conceived idea of what addiction looks like, we ignore addiction even when it’s directly in our faces. This becomes a dangerous idea when it comes to listening to others who are asking for support, as well as addressing our own issues. A person might think to themselves, “Well, addiction is only serious if your life is significantly impacted, right?” They wait to get care because they believe that it could be worse.
This unrealistic expectation of addiction and rock bottom can affect someone getting the support that they truly need. A person might realize that their habits and behaviors aren’t healthy. They’ve noticed the signs of a substance use disorder, and even though they haven’t lost anything yet, they figure it might be a good idea to address the issue before it gets out of hand. Then, they talk to others they trust about possibly seeking treatment, and they are instantly shot down. Family might say, “Well, you don’t seem like you have a problem.” Friends who have the same substance use problems might become defensive because they don’t think they have a problem either.
This becomes even worse for a person who has already sought treatment but finds themselves on the verge of relapse. Family and friends might think their loved one is jumping the gun. “But you were worse before.” Some of it might come from a place of fear for their loved one. Treatment and recovery were stressful enough that they don’t want to go through that again. It took so long for the person to get to where they are; now they have to start over? Other times, their skepticism comes from a place of ignorance. Either way, their loved one postpones treatment until it gets worse enough to justify getting help, and by that point, the damage is already done.
A Person Who Doesn’tdon’t Fit the Mold Isn’t Taken Seriously
Stereotypes and assumptions don’t just exist with well-intentioned friends and family. It can even exist in the medical field and the addiction recovery industry. A person that seems perfectly fine and well-adjusted might seem like someone who doesn’t even need treatment. They might slip through pre-take in screening, or they might end treatment early because they already seem cured. These assumptions ignore what’s hidden.
A person might speak with their primary care doctor, who asks them about their life. Things might seem stable on the surface. This person looks relatively healthy. Maybe they drink too much on the weekends, but it’s fine because they’re young. They don’t look like someone with an addiction. They seem like they have it together.
This assumption of what addiction and rock bottom looks like can discourage people who need it to seek resources early on and sometimes even shames people for seeking those resources. There’s an issue in mental healthcare and addiction recovery where resources are limited. A person might feel guilty for taking someone else’s spot when they believe they can still manage. However, all this does is cause someone to seek help before things become out of control.
Addiction Is Addressed Far Too Late
Making assumptions about what addiction looks like can cause someone to hide under the radar. You might not notice that someone you care about has an addiction. This can lead to a lapse in care, which can equal a death sentence. Addiction can be covert if people let their assumptions control the way they look at a person and their actions. Someone might seem completely fine to you even though their symptoms are right in your face. There are plenty of reasons why being ignorant of the signs can be extremely dangerous to your community and the people you care about.
A Person Might Be Hiding Their Addiction
There is a lot of shame and fear associated with addiction. It’s common to be in denial of addiction at first. Others might also be reluctant to share their addiction with others. It might be more obvious to the people living with them than to others who only see them in a public setting. A person might underplay their substance use or completely lie about how much they use, not only to their friends but their family and even medical professionals.
There are many different reasons why a person might hide their addiction. Some of it is that they feel ashamed of their addiction. There’s a lot of negativity and misunderstanding around addiction. Some people might see having an addiction as a sign of weakness. Other people might see addiction as a moral impairment. They might be afraid of getting judged for having an addiction. Other people might hide their addiction out of fear of being a burden. They won’t be vocal because they don’t want to be a problem to others. Some might hide their addiction due to cultural reasons. They were raised not to talk about things like mental health and addiction; therefore, being vocal about it would go against their upbringing. The signs of an addiction might look different depending on their background. Look for the signs of addiction, and don’t make assumptions about who can have an addiction.
Poor Mental Health Can Be Worsened by Addiction
Underlying mental health disorders are a common part of addiction. People with poor mental health might use substances as a way to cope with difficult symptoms through self-medication. While these substances might offer temporary relief, most substances can actually make symptoms of mental health disorders worse. For example, substance use can make symptoms of depression worse for people with bipolar disorder. Substance use can also increase the frequency and duration of manic and depressive symptoms. Some substances can even increase the likelihood of suicide due to affecting impulse control.
Ignoring a person’s substance use, especially if they have a mental health condition or symptoms of a mental health disorder, can lead to downward spirals and worsening mental health. Some mental health conditions might look different depending on the person’s background or identity. Even a small amount of substance use can make mental health worse. If someone you know has a mental health condition and tends to use substances, they shouldn’t.
Substance use can also negatively interact with medication. Many mental health medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and anxiety medications shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol or cannabis. Some medications can make it harder for your body to process substances, and others can cause seizures. If you ignore a person’s substance use and assume it’s okay, you could be putting them at risk.
The Progression of Addiction Doesn’t Have a Set Timeline
Addiction can move fast. However, there isn’t a set time for an addiction to escalate. It doesn’t take long for a person to spiral, and if you don’t notice the signs right away, it could expose someone you care about to harm. A person might not have an obvious addiction, or they don’t seem to be hitting rock bottom, but things might already be much worse than they appear to be. It’s easy for an addiction to get out of hand, especially if the person you care about is dealing with things that you aren’t aware of.
How Facilities Can Beat the Stigma and Assumptions
Stick With the Facts
When a treatment center is treating addiction, they should only stick to science-based information. Catchphrases like “rock bottom” don’t have any scientific basis and only work as trendy industry terms. Rather, it’s important to assess the symptoms during intake and approach care under the assumption that their situation is serious. The DSM doesn’t require a person to be at rock bottom to screen positive for substance use. Instead, it lists symptoms, and how many symptoms a person has can indicate the severity of that addiction.
Train for Bias
When taking on new employees, it’s important to train out biases. Unfortunately, even healthcare professionals can believe in stereotypes or be ignorant about biases. Bias can be taught even in classrooms and in colleges and can be found in research. During training, address biases and educate your staff on how to recognize addiction in every identity. Ask them questions to determine bias, and help them unlearn these assumptions so that they can provide fair care.
Look for Assumptions in Screening Tools
Even screening tools can have their own biases. Unfortunately, many tools for diagnosis are created with the default in mind. Research might center on cis-gendered white men’s identities but forget how symptoms might present differently. This can cause other identities to slip through the cracks or underestimate the severity of a person’s addiction. When using screening tools, keep bias in mind and understand exactly what these tools are looking for.
Take People Seriously
If a person comes to the facility believing they need care, take them seriously. Never turn away a person that seems fine on the outside. There could be a lot hiding underneath. It’s common for people to hide the severity of their situation or to put the best face forwards. This doesn’t mean that this person doesn’t actually need help and is using resources that other people need. There is a chance that this person seriously needs care and is trying to open up.
There’s also a chance that a person is addressing addiction early on. They may not have experienced trauma and loss because of substance use. In fact, they might seem like they have it under control. However, we need to support people who are pre-emptive with getting treatment and support the moment they believe they might be developing a problem instead of expecting them to wait when their situation is completely out of control.
Addiction Isn’t a Measurement or a Contest
Those who have an addiction and those who are providing care for addiction shouldn’t compare one experience with another. Suffering shouldn’t be a contest. Everyone comes from different backgrounds and experiences. Addiction can affect people at many different levels. A person should not feel discouraged to seek care because they aren’t “addicted enough yet” or their addiction doesn’t look like someone else’s addiction. If a person is unable to live a fulfilling life because of mental health and addiction, then they have a problem that they should address now. There shouldn’t be guilt attached to seeking out resources that can save lives.
Biases can be deadly if they are applied to addiction. Everyone’s version of rock bottom is different. There is no standard for that kind of thing. Addiction can also look different in everyone. Sure there are a basic set of symptoms to look for, but sometimes that doesn’t always cover it, or we might let our biases and assumptions affect the obvious signs right in front of us. Don’t let the people you care about or are in your care become a victim because you believe in a stereotype or a stigma. Addiction is life or death, and we need to unlearn these biases in order for everyone to get better.
White House Recovery and Detox works hard to have an open-minded and educated approach when it comes to treating addiction and mental health. If you are interested in furthering the conversation, call us today at (800) 510-5393.