There are some in recovery who may argue against the idea of a rock bottom, saying that they never had to hit an all-time low and that they just simply decided to quit. This may, in fact, be true. For some people, they are indeed able to stop drinking or using without the experience of overwhelming personal, financial and/or legal consequences. However, these individuals may have simply been struggling with substance abuse—not the disease of addiction.
For the vast majority of addicts, stepping into recovery requires varying degrees of low points in order to decide that enough is enough. The bottom concept originated from the AA founders and is essentially the idea that there is a time when a person realizes that the pain of using is more than the pain of not using. For each person, this comes in different shapes and forms.
For those who may not be familiar with the idea, here are 3 reasons why individuals may need a rock bottom in order to begin a true path in recovery.
1. They will decide for themselves that they need help.
With regard to addiction as defined by the disease model which implies it is chronic, progressive and potentially fatal if not treated, a rock bottom is typically required for an individual to decide for themselves they need help. It's typically the only way treatment and recovery will stick.
In fact, regarding any disease, symptoms may be ignored for some time until they become so life-altering that they are no longer manageable. It is at that point individuals typically seek medical diagnosis and treatment. Addiction is no exception.
2. They are forced to sit with the pain.
When left to sit at rock bottom without hope of being pulled up or rescued by enablers, active addicts are forced to sit with their pain—that which they've tried to escape via active addition and that which results from the consequences of it. That builds emotional strength and resiliency.
3. They learn that there are consequences.
Rock bottom is not simply a low period. It is a point where all feels lost, as a result of active addiction. Friends, family, finances and possibly even freedom due to incarceration are gone. At this point, if no one steps in to rescue, the active addict will have to sit with the dire consequences of their disease and the realization of their own accountability. This is part of being a responsible adult.
And, though it is typically difficult for friends and family to witness a loved one seemingly helplessly stuck at rock bottom, it is the only way the individual will realize that to be able to restore all the elements lost to them—family, friends, finances, freedom, etc.—they must get help for their addiction and enter into recovery.
Of course, there is no magic formula for how active addicts arrive at a realization and break free from denial. But, generally speaking, addiction specialists are aware that enabling certainly prevents either and, therefore, rock bottom is necessary. Requiring an active addict to climb up of their own free will, rather than jumping in to save them from themselves, allows them an opportunity to sit with their pain and consequences, realize they have a problem and decide they do, in fact, need help.