“Having to hit rock bottom and become desperate because of denial is risky and unnecessary. The earlier in life we address drug use and dependence, the more of a productive life we have… Although a crisis can help, it isn’t necessary for things to be at an absolute worst before getting help.” ~ Dr. Michael J. Kuhar, Ph.D., a neuroscientist, and author of The Addicted Brain: Why We Abuse Drugs, Alcohol, and Nicotine You’ve heard it again and again in virtually every addiction recovery program or piece of literature – “an addict has to hit rock bottom before they can be ready to accept help“.
The Prevailing Wisdom about Beginning Recovery from Addiction
On the face of it, that statement seems to make a certain kind of sense. After all, for a person to make changes in their life – especially when their life is affected by the disease of addiction – they have to have the proper motivation. In other words, an addict/alcoholic has to feel that the consequences of continued substance abuse are worse than the difficulties involved with getting sober. But what if there is another way? What if there is a way to begin a journey of recovery positively – with a sense of hope, rather than out of desperation?
What Is “Rock Bottom”, Anyway?
If we are going to take a closer look at the old adage about rock bottom, perhaps we’d first better define exactly what that means. That’s just it – there is NO one-size-fits-all definition of rock bottom. A person’s lowest point is extremely subjective. Think about it for a moment – for some people, their own personal breaking point might be –
- Divorce/Breakup/Separation – but… What about single people?
- Loss of child custody or visitation – but… What about people without children?
- Health scare/Overdose – but… What about people suffering from suicidal ideation?
There are other examples, but the point is made – it’s virtually impossible to identify a single negative life event that one can point to and say, “There! NOW it’s time to get help“.
Sometimes, a Paradigm Shift Is in Order
A person suffering from addiction doesn’t need to suffer a catastrophic or irreversible loss before they decide to seek help. For some people, a personal crisis may be exactly what is needed to spur them into action, but for most, there doesn’t have to be some drastic calamity. The disease of addiction is drastic and calamitous enough already. The idea of “hitting rock bottom” is predicated on a negative starting point – a person has to be so miserable with their current circumstances that they are ready to make a change. But maybe – just maybe – some suffering addicts can be motivated by showing them the positive sides of recovery. Maybe there is a part of them that wants to reach for something better. The disease is an addiction, and diseases can’t be reasoned with or motivated, and diseases don’t want something better. But people do. Someone suffering from the disease of addiction has no control over the frequency or amount of alcohol or drugs that they consume. They will need help, and that is what addiction recovery programs are for.
How to Give Help before Rock Bottom
Addiction is thought of as a disease of deception, deflection, and most especially, denial. According to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 95% of Americans suffering from a substance use disorder say they don’t need help. So what is the antidote to such a disease? HONESTY. That’s where it all has to start. Begin with open, honest, and non-judgmental conversations. The goal of positive motivation is to make your addicted loved one feel supported, listened to, and empowered. There is a school of thought that says that addicts aren’t really in denial – that they are aware that their substance abuse causes problems. They don’t readily admit to that because they don’t want to be embarrassed, they don’t want to risk their freedom, and most importantly, they don’t want to give up their drugs and alcohol. There are learnable techniques to get your loved one to lower their guard and honestly admit how their addiction is hurting their life –
- Asking open-ended questions – “Why do you think… How would you… What can we…etc.“. Avoiding yes-or-no questions promotes open communication and understanding.
- Praising positive behaviors – When the suffering addict/alcoholic does something that is in any way conducive to their eventual sobriety and recovery, acknowledge their efforts, even if it is only a small victory.
- Listening to their concerns – Communication is a two-way street. Don’t talk at the addict/alcoholic – talk with them. Listen to them. When you know what their reasons for resisting treatment are, you are better equipped to encourage them.
- Improving their daily life without minimizing the dangers and effects of their substance abuse – This is not the same as protecting them from the natural consequences of their addictive behaviors.
Instead, it is about taking small steps that can improve and highlight the positives of their daily life. By making every effort to consciously choose to be positive and supportive, you clearly demonstrate to the substance abuser that there is a better way to live. The idea is that once the struggling addict begins to again feel accepted, understood, and safe, they will be more open about accepting help in the form of professional substance abuse treatment. This is more than an optimistic theory. In 1999, a study involving 130 families using this type of encouraging, positive influence was conducted, and the results were astounding –
- Two-thirds of addicts who had previously been resistant to the idea of treatment changed their minds.
- This is twice the rate of success for traditional, more confrontational interventions.
- It is three times the rate of families who only attended 12-Step support meetings.
These results were duplicated in another study later that same year, and again, three years later. What does all this teach us? It shows that an effective recovery does not have to begin or continue based upon the negative premise of hitting rock bottom. The desire for something better can be a motivator that is just as powerful. Positivity, encouragement, and support can have an effect that lasts much longer than despair or fear. Northpoint Recovery can offer positive support. As Idaho’s leading addiction recovery facility, Northpoint provides comprehensive substance abuse treatment in a safe, nonjudgmental, medically-supervised environment. There is no need to wait for “rock bottom”, because help, hope, and a better way are available right now.