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Addiction often follows the pattern of a gradual downward spiral, with the loss of employment, close relationships and all the beneficial features of a healthy life. In the past, addiction experts believed that individuals should be “hitting rock bottom,” a state in which they could not withstand any more loss and that would drive them to seek treatment for their addiction.

Today, research indicates that encouraging individuals to seek help earlier in the addiction process can improve the odds for a successful recovery.

How Low Is Rock Bottom?

Rock bottom is a concept of addiction that has carried over from the 12 Step founding documents, and 12-step programs continue to be a useful part of many addiction treatment programs.1 Working the steps requires rigorous honesty and effort to prevent relapse and restore relationships.

Practitioners of the program came to believe that reaching rock bottom was required to force individuals into accepting the efforts of working the steps. People often had to experience deterioration of healthy habits, legal problems, homelessness and isolation from family, conditions which were expected to put them into a suitable state of surrender to the program.

However, the concept failed to account for those people who were lost in the process of getting to this rock bottom point. Addiction experts began to question the value of reaching a “bottom” before getting help.

The Dangers of Hitting Rock Bottom

Unfortunately, when addiction is at its worst, the individual is no longer in control of events and circumstances. They are likely to engage in behaviors that physically endanger them. They may engage in risky sexual behavior, share needles or take substance that are mixed with dangerous components. Overdoses are common when a person is in a full-blown addiction. The complete inability to control behavior makes waiting for a rock bottom circumstance extremely risky, and many individuals are lost in the process of waiting for them to get low enough to seek help.

Advantages of Early Intervention

Reaching individuals who are addicted earlier in their disease can provide better conditions for treatment of the problem:

  • People who wait for rock bottom only put off treatment for a period of time.
  • People who are forced into treatment have no better outcomes than those who hit bottom and choose for themselves.2
  • Intervening at an earlier point when individuals still have their jobs and relationships provides greater motivation for succeeding at recovery.
  • Family members can often see the severity of the addiction more clearly than the individual and can provide this information in an authoritative way through an intervention at an earlier point.
  • Early intervention can deter the most serious health consequences of addiction, making it easier for the individual to rebuild a normal life.

Waiting for an addicted individual to reach rock bottom is not a requirement for getting addiction treatment. Intervention, led by a trained intervention specialist, can provide the techniques that help addicted individuals accept the help they need, before they experience the dangerous consequences of hitting rock bottom. Consult an addiction treatment center for more information about the benefits a structured intervention can provide for helping a loved one who is struggling with addiction.

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  1. http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/05/the-tragic-pseudoscientific-practice-of-forcing-addicts-to-hit-rock-bottom.html
  2. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/deni-carise/addiction-recovery_b_3469933.html
Hitting Rock Bottom Before Starting Treatment isn’t Necessary
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