The idea that someone has to hit rock bottom before he or she will make a change is a misperception and leads to many people washing their hands of those who struggle with substance abuse challenges. To begin, according to freedictionary.com, the definition of hitting rock bottom is to fall to the absolute worst possible situation. So, by that definition, if someone isn’t in the worst possible situation, he or she will continue to use until they find themselves struggling in a living hell. That is, only when a person has hit rock bottom will they try and make a change towards quitting the substance of abuse.
Letting someone fall until they hit the worst possible place he or she can hit seems cruel to me. When we do allow someone to hit rock bottom, not only are we allowing suffering to grow, but we are also making recovery a harder and harder goal to achieve. The further someone falls in to the abyss of substance abuse, the harder he or she has to climb in order to free themselves from that pit of hell. Seems obvious: The deeper someone gets trapped in a hole, the harder it is to get him out. Hitting rock bottom makes recovery quite difficult.
People, in general, will choose a path that they see as easy over a path that they see as difficult. Choosing the path of least resistance and discomfort is what keeps many people from quitting drugs and alcohol. For example, quitting alcohol has a 10 to 14 day detox period that is painful and physically debilitating. Once a person has detoxed, that person then has to deal with intense physical cravings that pull him or her to the bottle. So, then, quitting alcohol doesn’t sound so good: Continuing to drink sounds a lot easier. At least, it sounds easier on the surface.
The goal of any intervention, in my opinion, is to help the substance abuser see that continuing to use IS the difficult path. Most people who abuse alcohol have a whole bunch of health, legal, and relationship problems as a result of their drinking. It’s my role as a treatment provider to help people see the relationships between their drinking and their problems. The more they can recognize the harm drinking causes, the more they look for ways to cut out harm. Once someone learns that continuing to use causes all sorts of harm, there is more and more motivation to reduce his or her use and will accept some short-term harm (detox) for a greater amount of long-term gain.
So, then, rather than allow someone to free-fall towards rock bottom, maybe it’s better to approach the situation from a perspective of teaching that using is the harder path. There is little doubt that abusing drugs and alcohol has really only two outcomes: Prison or death. I’d rather help someone see than let that person end up hitting the two possible rock-bottom outcomes.