top of page
  • Writer's pictureSteve Braun

The Rock Bottom Fallacy

By Steve Braun- RTC, CCRC

About 20 years ago exactly, I went to my first ever AA meeting. I was 24 years old and

attended because my girlfriend at the time told me I had to–unless I wanted to spend the

night sleeping out on the balcony again. Reluctantly, I opened the door to the basement of

an obscure church and the smell of old carpet, cigarettes and coffee hit me like a sobering

dose of reality. An older gentleman who looked like a biker version of Santa Claus

welcomed me and pointed me inwards. I found a seat near the back of the room in case I

needed to make a quick exit and waited for the meeting to start.

I casually scanned the room of about 20 individuals. All men. Most of them looked to be

middle aged bikers. Bikers with patches on their leather jackets. A few older men that looked

to be in their late 70’s. I was easily the youngest person in the room. It was at that moment

I asked myself, ‘what the hell am I doing here’? Out of curiosity and skepticism I stayed,

listening to the men as they shared their individual stories; “My drinking landed me in jail for

5 years.” “ When I drank I beat my wife”. “I lost my house and then my wife and kids left as

a result of my drinking.” To top it all off, I heard this numerous times: “I had to hit my rock

bottom in order to quit drinking”.

I remember sitting there as a 24 year old kid not even sure what an alcoholic was and

thinking to myself, “I’ve never been to jail or beat my wife. I don’t even own a house and sure

as hell don’t have a wife or kids to lose!” Is this what they mean by hitting rock bottom?

After about half an hour of these war stories I told myself, ‘I can’t relate to this, I haven’t hit

my bottom yet obviously–I’m out of here!’ I stood up and walked to the pub two blocks down

the street and spent another long night trying to manipulate my way back into the house.

This whole ‘rock bottom’ mentality prevented me from getting help for a long time afterwards

and today I cringe everytime I hear that phrase. Let me be perfectly clear about this: YOU


USING. PERIOD! Sorry for the bold caps lock but I am extremely passionate about this

because the phrase ‘hitting rock bottom’ was probably the worst piece of advice I ever could

have received. It is not only incredibly false, it is dangerous and can cause more harm by

keeping well-intentioned individuals from getting the help they need and deserve!

The Fallacy

The fallacy begins as there is no concrete definition for “rock bottom”. There is no

consistency from person to person, and it may lack consistency for an individual. Numerous people have thought they reached their bottom only to fall even further. Essentially, “rock bottom” means the lowest point that a person can reach due to substance use and addiction.

Rock bottom means something different for everyone. For you, rock bottom could be the loss

of a marriage; for me, it might be the loss of a job. It’s nearly impossible to know what

anyone else’s rock-bottom is. There’s not a tried-and-true method of predicting what your

personal rock-bottom moment will be or how it will feel. The important thing is not what

rock-bottom looks like, but what it represents.

Many people firmly believe that for drug and alcohol treatment to be successful, addicts must

want treatment. And, before we can want that treatment, we have to hit rock bottom. This

creates a general consensus that, if we haven’t “seen the light” or if we continue to relapse,

then we haven’t “hit rock bottom” yet.

Believing things have to get worse before they get better is pretty counterintuitive.

The idea that we should wait for the disease to get worse before seeking treatment is

dangerous. Imagine if we waited until stage 4 to treat cancer? To be blunt, the only true rock

bottom is death. It’s the only scenario in which we have no control or opportunity to turn

things around. And waiting around for death is no life at all.

Addiction, like most other diseases, is progressive and gets worse over time. The longer the wait, the more mental, physical and emotional damage is done. Delaying treatment options increases the likelihood of harmful physical and mental consequences.

According to Mental Health America, “Early intervention, accurate diagnosis and effective treatment of mental health conditions can alleviate enormous suffering. Providing early care can help people to

more quickly recover [...] and ultimately lead more meaningful and productive lives.”

A massive crash-and-burn-type life event isn’t necessary for someone to realize they truly want and need treatment. “Research has shown that even addicts who go into treatment only because they’ve been forced to go—perhaps by a court—have the same chance of getting and staying sober as anyone else,” explains Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

Raising the Bottom:

To be fair, there is some truth behind the ‘rock bottom’ myth. Some research has shown that resource loss is a good predictor of treatment completion (Gruszczynska, Kaczmarek, Chodkiewicz, 2016). Meaning, those with more to lose (or who have lost more), generally hang on to this internal drive longer, providing ongoing motivation in the treatment or recovery process. The difference however, is that resource loss does not have to be catastrophic to be impactful.

This is the concept behind ‘raising the bottom’. If a person misusing substances can respond to relatively minor changes in their life, they will not need to experience ‘rock


I work with many loved ones of those struggling with substance use disorder and they

repeatedly ask me, “what can I do to help?”. The answer isn’t simple and in many instances,

it’s almost a case of asking, “what shouldn’t I do to help” that can be more beneficial. I am

however, a big believer that getting the family involved and together in the recovery process

will increase the impact of effectiveness.

Friends and family of the person using substances can aid in “raising the bottom” by

avoiding the risk of enabling current use. While easier said than done, allowing natural,

negative consequences to occur, the probability of the addicted individual realizing

the need for treatment can increase. For example, clearly stating the consequences of

continuing use or not getting treatment. Action steps such as, no longer providing money for

rent, may provide the motivation to enter a program. This serves to provide a crisis point

that builds motivation instead of waiting until the individual ‘loses it all’. I refer to this as

‘hitting a place of desperation’.

At the same time, the bottom can be raised by encouraging healthy behaviors. For

example, a friend or family member can:

● Allow the addicted individual to resolve his or her own personal conflicts.

● Practice consistency when setting limits and boundaries.

● Discuss and support treatment options.

● Provide transportation to doctor or therapy appointments.

Influencing Motivation

Motivation is not something that one has but rather something one does. It involves

recognizing a problem, searching for a way to change, and then beginning and sticking with that change strategy. There are several factors that are opportunities to increase the

motivation of someone addicted to drugs or alcohol to seek treatment options. These factors include:

Distress levels. Someone experiencing high levels of distress from a situational

stressor will be more likely to seek a change.

Critical life events. Something like a death, a prevalent health issue, or another

major life event can trigger interest in treatment.

Cognitive evaluation and appraisal. This involves the individual analyzing

their current status in life. A negative appraisal can lead to change.

Recognizing negative consequences. This is the ability to accept the cause

and effect relationship between substance use and unwanted outcomes.

Positive and external incentives. Not all factors have to be negative. If

someone sees enough positive reinforcement associated with ending use, they

will be more likely to do so.

*Provided by The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

These factors increase motivation. Motivation is a key agent of change associated with

substance use disorders. If enough motivation is present, the recovery process has a

higher chance of success. The window of time when requesting help for someone struggling

with substance use can be incredibly small and time sensitive. Early recognition of these

factors can be crucial in increasing the likelihood of the individual recognizing or seeking


Presently, the concept of motivation as it pertains to substance use disorders has broadened

its definition by incorporating more up-to-date terms and factors. These include:

● Motivation is multidimensional.

● Fluid, dynamic and changing constantly.

● Impacted by the social environment and interactions.

● Motivation can be modified.

● Affected by the style of the treatment professional.

● The professional’s task is to elicit and enhance motivation.

● Motivation is a key to change

*provided by The National Center for Biotechnology Information

This information can aid in diminishing the stigma surrounding relapse and slips, for a lack of

success does not speak to a total lack of motivation from the client. Rather, it indicates a

momentary lack of motivation that can be easily corrected in a short amount of time by the


● Reevaluating their position.

● Recognizing the negative consequences.

● Receiving motivating incentives for returning to treatment and sobriety.

This contrasts the rock bottom myth and indicates that effective treatment can be initiated

at any time and goes to show that ‘rock bottom’ is NOT a prerequisite for getting sober.

Recovery Coaching: Instigator of Change

No matter where you are on the scale of change or how motivated you currently are, a qualified professional recovery coach will help triage your needs and bridge that gap to be the instigator of change for you! Remember, motivation is not something that one has but something one does. Change requires determined, massive action and it is much easier to accomplish with a trained accountability partner at your side.

As a Certified Recovery Coach (CCRC-CACCF) with over a decade of experience in

addiction and mental health disorders, I have helped hundreds of individuals at various

stages of change and recovery. I provide custom, individual programs tailored to each

individual's specific needs. Recovery is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and neither is your

program. I provide a confidential, private time-out to step back and reflect on what's working

in your life, what's not, and why. I work with motivated clients who seek personal

growth, increased awareness, and a desire to show up strong in their lives regardless

of their challenges. My coaching facilitates transformation toward clarity, self awareness,

confidence and a renewed outlook for your daily journey.

Don’t wait for things to get worse. Call and book a complimentary consultation with me

today and let’s get you the life you’ve always wanted–and deserve!

Steve Braun

Call or Text: 778.932.1978

About the Author: Steve currently resides in the sunny Okanagan in British Columbia Canada where he spends his free time camping at remote lakes chasing monster rainbow trout with a flyrod.



8 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page