The Elusive Rock Bottom

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone in the recovery community say, “Well they just haven’t hit rock bottom yet.” And every time I hear that, I always think to myself, What does “rock bottom” look like anyway?

Is it getting caught?

Is it prison time?


Losing your family?

Do you have to be dirty, nasty, and smelly to hit rock bottom? Is there a place called rock bottom that people are actually hitting?

Well let me tell you, after working with hundreds of addicts the past few years I can confidently say… I have no idea what rock bottom is.

I really don’t! I have no clue. I have found no way to identify whether someone has hit rock bottom or not. There is no glaring marker or checklist or brightly flashing indicator that can precisely qualify a person for rock-bottom status.

What I have found is this: rock bottom is different for everyone. And if that is the case, then why are we trying to guess when a person has or hasn’t hit it?

I think we tend to have a somewhat romanticized view of what rock bottom looks like, based on the way movies, books, and television shows have portrayed spiraling descents into degradation. We expect rock-bottom to look something like getting busted by the cops, or turning tricks in the parking lot behind a grungy motel, or wasting away on a grimy couch in a trash-piled living room that is covered in pizza boxes, rat droppings, and a dingy haze.

But that’s not at all how my rock bottom looked. Not for a second.

For the most part, I looked relatively normal at my rock bottom. I had a good job, I made great money, I went to church, I had a pretty girlfriend, I lived in a decent house, and I drove a nice car. Those are relatively material signs, but if you didn’t know me, you would have no clue I was simultaneously a full-fledged, 50-pill-a-day drug addict. I was a fairly high-functioning addict who, from the world’s point of view, was nowhere near rock bottom.

So how can you tell?

An addict’s rock bottom can be about as camouflaged as a Duck Dynasty cast member on Saturday morning during duck season. They are impossible to find, and none look the same. So instead of using that as some type of crutch or justification to accept unacceptable behavior, you can use it as a catalyst to intervene early and often.

Because the truth is: we loved ones can force a rock bottom. It is possible. We can say “enough is enough”. We can take away privileges, money, and freedom. We can force treatment, change the locks, and turn off the phone. We can fire someone, cut them out of the family business, ban them from our facility, or look at them right in the eyes and tell them that today is the day something changes.

You see, all of the instances I just listed are actually true examples of situations I dealt with in just one single week of ministry.

Families all across the country are constantly faced with these dilemmas, and those same families are learning to rise to the challenge.

When do we force the rock bottom? How do we really help? It’s terribly difficult to know, but to help an addict find their rock bottom, you can start by doing any of the things I just listed—and sticking to them.

And yes, I know that sometimes we do these things and nothing changes.

And yes, I know that sometimes we do these things and people still let us down.

And yes, I know that sometimes we do these things and people still die.

I know because all of those these things also happened during that same week.

And it sucks. It hurt me. I cried and got angry over it.

But at least the parents tried everything they could to save their son. They forced rock bottom roughly a year ago and the son made it to treatment. He had a shot. He found some hope.

For whatever reason it didn’t work. He didn’t make it. But instead of waiting on the elusive rock bottom they chose to act. They chose to step in and elevate rock bottom to give their son one last chance.

If you’re telling yourself you should wait to intervene until your loved one hits rock bottom, I urge you to stop. You have a say in defining rock bottom. So why not here? Why not now?

There’s nowhere to go but up.

For more help on parenting an addict or what to do after a loved-one has found “rock bottom” pick up my new book, Finding Hope.


Leave a Comment