“Rock bottom” is the concept that a person can lose so much to active addiction that they will reach a point at which they are motivated to get sober. The term implies that people will not be willing or able to stop their addiction until they have had a substantial, possibly irreversible, loss. This may be the case for some people; however, it’s too often the case that someone’s rock bottom is six feet under. That is to say, that they will get sicker and sicker and may even die from an overdose before they find recovery if they continue to put off treatment. 

Another Term for Rock Bottom

What most of us might consider a “rock bottom” moment is an ugly, humiliating, and dangerous situation. Another word for such a situation is trauma. The Children’s Mental Health Network calls trauma a gateway drug to addiction, because of how strongly addiction and trauma are correlated. With that in mind, it doesn’t really make sense to assume that trauma, which is highly connected with causing and fueling addiction, is also the medicine to fix it.

The Case Against Rock Bottom

According to Brooke Feldman, an MSW writing for the SMART Recovery website, the belief that an addicted person must hit rock bottom before anyone can help them is rooted in the false belief that intervening to protect a person from the harm is a form of enabling. According to Feldman, most people need help to find recovery from addiction. She encourages readers to help an addicted person by ensuring that their basic needs, like food, shelter, and human connection, are met. When someone has their basic needs taken care of, they are better able to make good decisions. By showing compassion, forgiveness, and unconditional positive regard for the person who is struggling, loved ones and professionals make recovery more attainable.

Rat Park

Feldman is not the only one to suggest that combating addiction requires a community effort. A famous study called Rat Park studied how rats who were offered morphine solutions responded when they were in very different living environments. Rats who were kept in cages, isolated from other rats, with nothing fulfilling to do with their time, would typically choose to overdose on the morphine solution. Meanwhile, rats that were placed in a sort of rodent paradise, with lots of enrichment activities, space to move around, and the ability to interact with other rats, didn’t tend to drink the morphine at all, even though their access to it was unrestricted. 

Based on this study, it has been theorized that the best way to help humans avoid or overcome addiction is to connect them with other human beings and ensure that they have access to the various things anyone would need to feel safe, healthy and happy.

How to Support a Loved One Through Addiction

Instead of waiting for your loved one to hit their absolute lowest, try to be the one who lifts them up:

  • Recognize that your friend or family member may be using drugs or alcohol to cope with difficult life experiences and that human connection is an important tool in their fight for recovery. 
  • Consider how isolated your loved one might already be due to their drug use. They may have lost all of their sober connections and be terrified that they will now lose the only people they have left, which may be the people they use with.
  • Think about a time when you have been struggling and how having someone (or not having anyone) impacted your ability to get through that difficult fight.
  • Rethink the idea that relapse is failure. Addiction is a disease and diseases sometimes have setbacks. Relapses are an opportunity for learning and growth. They can help the person and their treatment team to identify where the person’s recovery plan might need to be strengthened in order to promote long-term sobriety.
  • Be flexible in your notion of what recovery looks like. Recovery is a deeply personal process. What works for one individual may not help another. Some people attend recovery meetings, others utilize medication-assisted treatment (MAT), some people lean on their faith. and others look to science. Your loved one may use none of these tools or all of them, but their journey to recovery will not look like any other person’s. 

At Safe Harbor Recovery Center in Portsmouth, VA, we strive to help each person in our program to find the path to sustained recovery through compassionate, individualized treatment.