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Do You Need to Hit Rock Bottom Before Getting Help for Addiction?

Elena Hill, MD, MPH profile image
By Elena Hill, MD, MPH • Updated Jul 6, 2022 • 5 cited sources

No, you don’t need to hit rock bottom before you get help for your substance misuse.

The Myth of ‘Rock Bottom’

“You have to hit rock bottom with your addiction before you’re really ready to get treatment.”

It’s one of those phrases we’ve all heard so often. There’s just one problem. There is no evidence that people must wait until they hit an absolute low before they can get better. In fact, the sooner an individual realizes their risk for developing an addiction disorder, the sooner they can get treatment and avoid the negative consequences of addiction. It is for this reason that doctors ask their patients regularly about smoking, drinking, and other drug use: to catch a problem early before it gets out of hand and actually becomes an “addiction” disorder.

It is true that some people need to experience a really bad outcome before they realize the negative impacts that addiction is having in their life, but some people are actually able to notice an unhealthy relationship with a substance early before it becomes really problematic.

Rather than asking yourself if you’ve truly hit your lowest point, start thinking about what your life would be like without drugs or alcohol. If that life seems better but you have no idea how to make it a reality, it is never too early to consider treatment!

Why Do People Enter Treatment for Substance Misuse?

People with substance use disorders choose treatment for many different personal, unique reasons. Researchers say people seem ready for treatment when they’ve performed a deep self-examination and considered the following:[1]

  • The severity of their addiction
  • The consequences of their habits
  • Their confidence that they can change
  • How effective treatment can be
  • Their personal responsibility for the addiction

A long history of addiction and significant impairment caused by drugs could also push people into treatment.[2] 

Why Do People Wait to Get Addiction Help? 

Recovery is difficult, and it’s a lifelong process. People who succeed in treatment are ready to make critical changes to support sobriety. Some people avoid addiction treatment because they’re just not ready yet. Others  don’t enter treatment despite their problems because they’re worried about being labeled an “addict” or a “junkie.”[4]

It is true that having a “rock bottom” moment is the trigger for some people to finally pursue treatment. However, in a perfect world, we would be educating and identifying addiction disorders in ourselves and in our patients early, way before “rock bottom” In this way, we can help avoid people having to “hit rock bottom” before they actually acknowledge their addiction and get the help they need and deserve. 

Do You Need Treatment for a Substance Use Disorder?

If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, and you want to change your life, it’s time for treatment. There’s no reason to wait for things to get worse when you could make your life better with recovery and avoid potentially irreversible damage to yourself, your relationships, and your physical health.

Don’t wait for things to “hit rock bottom”: Ask for help today, and you can look forward to a better tomorrow.

By Elena Hill, MD, MPH

Elena Hill, MD; MPH received her MD and Masters of Public Health degrees at Tufts Medical School and completed her family medicine residency at Boston Medical Center. She is currently an attending physician at Bronxcare Health Systems in the Bronx, NY where ... Read More

  1. Motivational Readiness for Alcohol/Drug Treatment is More About Self-Evaluation Than Consequences. ScienceDaily. March 2009. Accessed June 2022.
  2. Differences Between Treatment-Seeking and Non-Treatment Seeking Participants in Medication Studies for Alcoholism: Do They Matter? The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse. March 2017. Accessed June 2022.
  3. The Effect of Treatment Motivation Levels on Patients Sent to a Conditional Substance Abuse Treatment Program. Universitas Psychologica. 2019. Accessed June 2022.
  4. Review of the Effects of Self-Stigma and Perceived Social Stigma on the Treatment-Seeking Decisions of Individuals with Drug- and Alcohol-Use Disorders. Substance Abuse and Rehabilitation. 2018. Accessed June 2022. 
  5. Treatment for Alcohol Problems: Finding and Getting Help. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. August 2021. Accessed June 2022.

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