The notion of hitting “rock bottom” is widespread in the public perception of drug addiction. If you’re struggling with addiction and you’ve hit a particularly low point, you may feel a tinge of jealousy when you notice other people getting clean without having to go through anything similar. If you did have to hit a new low before you made attempts to get clean, the fact that other people don’t might even make you wonder if there’s something wrong with you, or if your situation is just more severe. Thankfully, the notion that hitting “rock bottom” is necessary to overcome addiction is a myth, and potentially a dangerous one at that.
The theory behind the rock bottom idea is that an addict needs to suffer a personal tragedy of some type to muster the will to overcome addiction. It’s assumed that if somebody hasn’t quit using drugs, he needs to have more bad things happen to him in order to help him get clean. Addicts have to hit an ultimate low: perhaps it could be losing a job, destroying a relationship or almost dying from an overdose. It’s a type of “scared-straight” theory built on the implicit assumption that drug users have to—or should—suffer as a result of their problem.
The Myth and the Reality
If theory is true, every addict would be incapable of getting clean without hitting rock bottom, and every person who hits rock bottom would never use again. This is a gross oversimplification. Many users do hit rock bottom and then continue to use, and interventions can help individuals realize there is a problem before something tragic happens to them. In fact, when you think about it a little more deeply, it’s clear that perpetuating this myth could be outright dangerous. For example, if somebody has a near-overdose but doesn’t die and doesn’t decide to try and get clean, the “rock bottom” theory suggests that something more serious would have to happen before he or she can get clean.
There is some truth to the myth too, though. Hitting a personal “rock bottom” can be something of a wake-up call to the user. After losing a job, he or she may take a long hard look in the mirror and realize something has to change. This is likely the root of this myth, but it’s essential to remember that it doesn’t represent reality in many situations.
The Real Issue: Denial
The “rock bottom” theory should be re-stated as an issue regarding denial. The only “benefit” to suffering a personal tragedy as a result of drug use is that it may make it impossible to pretend that your continued drug use isn’t harmless. You’re forced to admit to yourself that it’s a problem. If you had to hit rock bottom, it’s likely to be because you were previously in denial, not because the suffering itself was beneficial to your situation.
It goes without saying that not everybody will hit rock bottom. Some will realize that there is a deeper issue before the problem causes serious, irreparable damage. If you had to hit a low point, this doesn’t mean that your case is more severe than cases where somebody got clean without that experience; it just means your denial persisted for a little longer. The first step of the 12 steps is admitting you have a problem, and like all of the other steps, it takes some people longer to reach it than others. This doesn’t have any reflection on you other than the fact that we are all individuals and we are all different from one another.
A Dangerous Idea
The “rock bottom” myth is nothing other than a misleading idea about denial. In fact, acting like the painful or otherwise damaging experience is valuable is inherently dangerous. If you’ve already hit a low point, it isn’t a cure, and if you haven’t hit one, it doesn’t mean your problem will come back. It’s natural to feel a little jealous of those who’ve had an easier time than you, but what really matters is how well you traverse the road to recovery, not what got you on it in the first place.