Most people don't know what to do or where to turn when someone they love is struggling with substance use. After tense conversations and the exhaustion of constant worry, many families are left standing still, worried that any misstep could make the problem worse or further distance a loved one. Many families are told to wait for “rock bottom” and that their loved one needs to feel “ready” to seek treatment in order for it to work.
The idea of “rock bottom” can help people describe their recovery from addiction by turning it into a narrative with a clear event that helped turn their lives around. But the idea that we should wait for the disease to get worse before seeking treatment is dangerous.
Belief in this “rock bottom” can keep people who are struggling from reaching out for help. It can also keep family, friends, and care providers from addressing the issue when they have been wrongly told that the disease has to “run its course” and that they should practice “tough love” until a person hits bottom—when they will be ready and willing to engage in treatment.
But these ideas aren’t backed by science, and not everyone survives the fall. Imagine if we waited until stage four to begin treating cancer? Addiction should be treated with the same urgency.
Don’t wait for the worst to happen—or a profound moment of awakening— before seeking treatment or helping a loved one, even if they don’t feel “ready.” Decades of research have proven that the earlier someone is treated, the better their outcomes—and that treatment works just as well for patients who are compelled to start treatment by outside forces as it does for those who are self-motivated to enter treatment.
Substance use disorders get worse over time. The earlier treatment starts the better the chances for long-term recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling, don’t wait— reach out for help.