Hitting rock bottom: A dangerous myth

By Dave Jansa, Board of Directors

Not long ago, someone close to me echoed a sentiment I’ve heard several times during my more than 30 years of abstinence from alcohol: “You really weren’t that bad.”

When examined through the lens of addiction science, this person was correct in many ways. I had not yet developed the obvious outward signs or experienced the devastatingly negative consequences most associate with alcohol addiction. I had a stable job, I maintained many positive relationships with friends and I hadn’t received a DUI or any other legal consequences.

Where this individual was incorrect, however, was his assertion that I didn’t need to consider abstinence. I’ve come across this many times – people believe I simply needed to control my alcohol intake, rather than not consume it altogether. What these people often don’t know is that nearly everyone with an addiction, myself included, has attempted to control intake and failed. Usually, many times.

Imagine if we viewed other chronic diseases in a similar way. People wouldn’t get their blood pressure or blood sugar levels checked. Instead, they’d wait until conditions like hypertension or diabetes manifested themselves with more serious complications, or “hit bottom.” Early indicators and symptoms of these diseases would be ignored; people wouldn’t be encouraged to pursue wellness until they reached a very unhealthy threshold.

One of the biggest issues we have with addiction is our inability to understand, recognize and treat it in its early stages. I was in a relatively early stage when I came to the conclusion that abstinence was best for me.

Similar to other chronic diseases, it’s much easier, and less costly, to deal with addiction early on. We need to understand and embrace the importance of early detection and treatment of addiction as we have with other chronic illnesses. If we don’t, we’re left treating addiction with archaic, ineffective methods.

I was fortunate because I identified my problematic alcohol use before it caused a great deal of harm to myself and others. I often wonder what would’ve happened had I waited, like so many others do. That’s why the concept of letting people “hit rock bottom” is so harmful.

In my role as an addiction management coach, I frequently hear questions and statements similar to what I said to myself 30 years ago: “I know I drink too much and too often, but …”

  • "Do I really need to completely abstain from all alcohol use?”
  • “Do I have to commit to never drinking again?”
  • “I haven’t had a DUI or any other criminal history.”
  • “I don’t feel like I’ve hit bottom. I still have a job, a spouse and a family.”
  • “I don’t feel like I fit the label 'alcoholic.'”

If someone you know is exploring ways to manage a possible addiction, be assured they haven’t come to this decision lightly. They’ve likely attempted use reduction several times; this is very common. If they’ve determined abstinence is fundamental to their wellbeing, you can help by supporting them 100 percent – without questions or judgment. They’ll appreciate it more than you know.

If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol or drugs, consider signing up for a free consultation with an addiction management coach.

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