Do you have an image of a drug addict or an alcoholic in your head? When you imagine this person, what do you see? Maybe they have lost their home and family. Maybe they can’t hold a job. Maybe you imagine them waking up and not knowing where they are or how they got there. Maybe you see a broken-down person who can barely function at all beyond the pursuit of the next fix.
The person in your head might be said to have hit “rock bottom”—the point where it isn’t really possible to sink any lower into addiction and the problems it can cause.
And maybe you are using the image in your head as a kind of yardstick for measuring your own use of drugs or alcohol. Each time you wonder if you might have a problem, you just bring that picture of a person at rock bottom to mind and remind yourself that you aren’t there. You haven’t hit rock bottom.
“Heck,” you may think to yourself, “I’m not even close to losing everything like someone with a real problem. I could maybe cut back a little, but all in all, everything is fine.”
Well, maybe. But there is a good chance you are fooling yourself. Using “rock bottom” as your guideline for when to get help can have some serious consequences.
The Dangers of Moving the Goalposts
Even if you are not a sports fan, you have probably heard the expression “moving the goalposts.” It means changing the standards that apply in a given situation midway through. Your boss might set a goal for you, for example, and tell you that you will get a raise if you accomplish that goal. But as you get closer to meeting the challenge, your boss might change the requirements so that it will be harder for you to get a raise. That’s moving the goalposts.
And how does that apply to problematic substance use? Moving the goalposts just gives you an excuse to let yourself keep using drugs or alcohol even when you know that you have a problem.
Got a DUI? Well, if you had a “real” problem, you would have crashed the car. Lost your job because you came in under the influence? Well, if you had a “real” problem, you would not have done so well at your interview for a new job. Relationship with your spouse getting rocky? Well, if you had a “real” problem, they probably would have left you by now. See, you’re not at rock bottom at all!
As you redefine “rock bottom” to accommodate more and more troubling behaviors and problems, you put yourself—and those around you—at risk. And the notion of rock bottom starts to have little or no meaning if you can just redefine it anytime you think you might be approaching it.
Rock Bottom Is the Wrong Standard in Any Case
Even if you steadfastly leave the goalposts right where they are, “rock bottom” is still the wrong standard for considering whether you should be seeking treatment for a substance use disorder.
The warning signs of a substance use disorder are varied—and they don’t all align with a stereotypical depiction of a person who has bottomed out. Knowing the signs is important. Equally important is making the choice to be honest with yourself when you start to notice some of the signs in your own life (or being honest with a loved one if you are concerned about them).
You could think of it like a cut on your finger. At first, it might not seem like a big deal. Not too deep, not too bloody. But maybe you don’t keep it clean enough and you start to wonder if it has gotten infected. You know you should probably do something about it, but it still doesn’t seem to be that bad, so you ignore it. Pretty soon, you are sure your finger is infected, but since it isn’t slowing you down, you let it ride. Maybe slap a bandage on it and forget about it. But then it starts to hurt. Really hurt. And when you finally go to the doctor, you may find that extreme measures are needed to halt the infection, keep it from spreading, and to save your finger..
The same is true when it comes to addressing problematic drug or alcohol use. Sure, you can put off doing something about it, but it is unlikely to get better on its own. And if you wait until it is as bad as you can possibly imagine—when you have reached your personal rock bottom—the road to lasting sobriety may be far more difficult than it might have been if you would have sought treatment sooner.
No Matter Where You Are, We Are Here to Help
At Wooded Glen Recovery Center, we can help you or a loved one with a substance use disorder at any stage in the process. We offer judgment-free care grounded in expertise and compassion. We hope you don’t wait until you hit rock bottom, but we are here for you no matter where you are on your personal journey.