Rock Bottom: Knowing When To Stop Digging

Addiction is a non-discriminating disease of the brain. Individuals of any age, ethnicity, and socioeconomic level can develop and suffer from a substance abuse disorder. As a potentially fatal affliction, addiction doesn’t care about an individual’s aspirations and goals, whether they have a family to care for or whether they’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. When an individual struggles with a physical dependency and a substance abuse disorder, it not only costs them their physical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual health, but also their financial stability, independence, and many of the relationships that had been important to them.

Before we had the benefit of having a wealth of addiction research from which we could learn about this chronic disease, it was commonly thought that individuals in active addiction were merely bad people: selfish, egotistical, irresponsible, and of weak will and character. As a result, many laws were put into place that offered only punitive treatments for addicted people, which meant that instead of receiving treatment for addiction that allowed these individuals to recover, they were punished for their disease in the hopes that it would discourage them from continuing with their addictions.

However, the problem with this punitive model is that it assumed addiction was a behavioral problem that was more like a crime than anything else. Legal repercussions covered the consequences of individuals’ behaviors that occurred in the name of their dependencies, but it soon became apparent that many of these individuals returned to substance abuse once they’d fulfilled their sentences.

Taking punitive action against people who struggle with addiction isn’t the only common fallacy when it comes to addressing substance abuse. The expression “hitting rock bottom” is commonly used to refer to when an addicted person reaches a low point in life that is a direct result of their addiction. We have come to better understand addiction as a chronic illness, but many have held onto the assumption that before an addicted person can really decide to get sober and choose to receive addiction treatment, the person must hit rock bottom first.

This line of thinking narrowly defines the parameters of what it means to hit rock bottom. It encourages the notion that an addicted person couldn’t possibly begin to recover from substance abuse until they’ve become jobless, homeless, financially destitute, and rejected by family and friends. “Rock bottom” in this sense is when a person has reached a point in life in which they just couldn’t possibly bear any additional hardships related to their addiction. However, “rock bottom” is different for each person who experiences it.

Why do some people become addicted when others don’t? from Delphi Health Group on Vimeo.


Everyone has things they could lose, whether it be a job, a family, a home, a car, friends, family heirlooms, and so on. Identifying what rock bottom looks like for a person operates on the principle that the longer an individual remains in active addiction, the more harm, damage, or destruction the addiction will have on the person’s life. Grappling with addiction is often compared to being in a downward spiral during which an individual’s thought patterns, having been warped and distorted by addiction, lead him or her to a variety of unfortunate situations.

These can include committing crimes, lying and stealing from loved ones, selling valuable belongings to obtain money to fund their addiction, losing jobs and other opportunities, ending up with a criminal record that will affect future opportunities, putting loved ones in danger, and so on. The phrase “hitting rock bottom” is used to refer to the point in which an addicted person has reached such a low point in life that he or she has nothing left to lose. From this point, the only place left to go is up.


The extent to which an individual has a choice in their rock bottom is often overlooked, especially by those individuals who the person in active addiction may know. Many assume that before one is ready to receive help and treatment for a substance use disorder, the person must reach this ultimate low point in their life so that can realize they’ve reached a point when they must stop digging and climb out of their hole if they want to live. However, each person has a choice, and one’s “rock bottom” can happen at any time.

When an individual develops an addiction, they begin by trying to manage their dependency so that it doesn’t cost them anything. You’ve likely heard the expression “functioning alcoholic” or “functioning addict” to refer to individuals who suffer from active addiction but whose lives don’t appear, at least at a glance, to have been damaged by their substance abuse disorder.

Despite the myth that a select few can prevent addiction from causing hardships, the reality of this situation is that they’ve merely been able to delay what is ultimately inevitable. As an individual continues to live in active addiction, he or she will experience hardships and begin losing things as a result. As addiction progresses over time, even “functioning” addicted people will become less and less functional as their substance abuse disorder triggers the downward spiral.

One of the most challenging things a person in active addiction will ever do is decide that it’s time to begin the journey of recovery. As a disease, addiction protects itself by making it exceedingly difficult for people in this position to realize that they no longer want to live in the throes of dependency. Each time an addicted person digs the hole a little deeper, it is an opportunity to decide that enough is enough and begin the rehabilitation process at a professional facility.

Rock bottom isn’t a universal state. Instead, it is determined by each person on an individual basis. It essentially comes down to this: How much more does the individual want to lose before they decide that the cost of addiction is too high?


If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, Maryland House Detox is here to help. We have a team of knowledgeable, caring recovery specialists that have helped many people begin the journey of recovery. Don’t wait—call us today at 855-928-0596 or connect with us online.

Tap to GET HELP NOW: (888) 263-0631