Rock Bottom Addiction and Getting Help

picture of Joe Gilmore
Medically Reviewed By: Diana Vo, LMFT

November 17, 2023

Table of Contents

Rock bottom addiction myths suggest someone abusing alcohol or drugs must reach the point of no return before committing to recovery. 

Not only is this concept flawed, but it’s also potentially dangerous. 

heart icon that is 2 hands holding

Need help getting addiction treatment?

So, if you have been putting off getting the treatment you need because things don’t seem that bad, today’s guide should help you reframe the concept of rock bottom. 

Rock bottom was first used when addiction professionals spoke with each other about chemical dependency. Often, the phrase “rock bottom” is employed to describe the lowest point of the person grappling with addiction. At this stage of addiction, treatment and recovery is the only workable option remaining. 

Since reality TV penetrated our homes, though, addiction and recovery have carved out their own niche as a form of entertainment for many. The format of these shows is typically broadly similar. Following a rock bottom incident, often manufactured, and a staged intervention, the substance abuser packs their bags and heads off to a California rehab or a sober living home.

While this might make for great TV, it has also introduced the unhelpful notion that those with addiction have no alternative but to wait for this mythical rock bottom moment before taking action and committing to recovery. 

In reality rather than on reality TV, though, nothing could be further from the truth. 

What does it mean to hit rock bottom, then?

What is Rock Bottom for an Addict?

For such an enduring myth, you would think defining rock bottom would be straightforward. 

To fully understand this concept, though, you need to acknowledge that hitting rock bottom is a unique process, just like all aspects of addiction and recovery. Consider a functional alcoholic with a great job, an unemployed crack addict living on the street, and a senior abusing prescription opioids after a long history of chronic pain. While addiction underpins each of these situations, the struggles faced by each individual will differ radically. 

For some people, stealing to buy drugs is a new low, while for others it could be the loss of a job or the end of a relationship. 

So, rather than probing for an idea of what rock bottom actually looks like, instead consider trying to establish what rock bottom represents to you. Trying to predict the specifics is futile, but when things make you feel so uncomfortable that you’re actively seeking change – well, this is what you should be striving for and capitalizing on instead of wasting time waiting for something terrible to happen. 

Remember, then, that rock bottom is certainly not a destination you should be aiming to visit. Beyond this, you can’t accurately measure or quantify rock bottom. It means something completely different to every individual.

When Does an Addict Hit Rock Bottom?

The easiest way to describe rock bottom is a person’s absolute lowest point, typically following a series of questionable decisions. This is a physical, emotional, and spiritual low that saps all life from you and makes you feel you don’t – indeed can’t – allow things to get any worse. 

The positive we can take from rock bottom is that it so often serves as a catalyst for recovery. The crucial point to understand, though, is that you don’t need to wait for this to happen before committing to recovery. 

For some people, it’s only hitting a low point that allows them to admit they have a problem with substance abuse. Denial is a common symptom of addiction, a by-product of the changes to brain structure and function brought about by the sustained abuse of addictive substances. 

Some addicts will hit rock bottom quite quickly – often individuals with lots to lose – but for others, it takes years of abusing substances before life unravels to the extent treatment seems inevitable, which seems like the only remaining option. 

When you take inventory and understand you have lost much more than your ability to control the use of an addictive substance, you’re ready to make changes. 

Perhaps you have been arrested, lost your driving license after a DUI, and notice your relationship unraveling, yet still, you continue using substances. If you have found even a string of adverse outcomes has made no difference to your substance abuse, ask yourself this… 

How low are you prepared to go? 

The most comforting news is that there is no time like the present to unshackle yourself from the hold of addictive substances and start reclaiming the life you lost to addiction. And you can do this long before that fabled rock bottom moment shatters your life irreparably.

Alcoholic Hitting Rock Bottom

Many people burdened by alcohol use disorder feel they don’t have a legitimate problem. In their eyes, they are still in control and simply having a good time. 

Alcohol use disorder is a disease, and it’s a progressive disease, so things will invariably become worse. This is the very nature of the disease. 

Another facet of this complex disease previously known as alcoholism is that it’s not a static disorder. Things continually shift so you may level off after an unpleasant incident, but then fall even deeper into a depressed state of mind. 

For someone with alcohol use disorder, the stage of decline required for the person to take action will differ. Some people find the shock of being arrested for a DUI is enough to put down the bottle. For others, even severe legal issues may not have much effect. 

At the most severe stage of an alcohol use disorder, you’ll find people who have lost what seems like everything – jobs, family, relationships, children, driving licenses, and health – and yet still they continue drinking heavily, often while blaming everyone except themselves. 

As we’ve said more than once today, don’t feel compelled to wait for rock bottom before addressing any addiction. The progressive aspect of the disease means things will get worse rather than better if you leave them unchecked.

Renaissance Recovery logo representing rehab in southern california

Overcoming Rock Bottom Addiction at Renaissance Recovery

Whether you are addicted to alcohol or drugs, or you’re watching a loved one become increasingly gripped by addiction, waiting for rock bottom could be dangerous. 

Instead, start discovering as much as you can about recovery and treatment options. You can do this by reaching out to the friendly Renaissance admissions team. 

We’ll be delighted to outline your various options for outpatient treatment, including PHPs (partial hospitalization programs) and IOPs (intensive outpatient programs). For anyone suffering from a co-occurring mental health disorder, our dual diagnosis treatment program allows you to attack both of these issues simultaneously.

With medication-assisted treatment and psychotherapy, you can get back on track without needing to hit rock bottom. If that sounds good, take action right now and call the Renaissance team at 866.330.9449.



At Renaissance Recovery our goal is to provide evidence-based treatment to as many individuals as possible. Give us a call today to verify your insurance coverage or to learn more about paying for addiction treatment.

Joseph Gilmore has been in the addiction industry for three years with experience working for facilities all across the country. Connect with Joe on LinkedIn.

Text a Recovery Expert

Text our team to get the help you need ASAP.

Use Our 24 Hour text line. You can ask questions about our program, the admissions process, and more.