Waiting on a loved one to hit “rock bottom” before getting help for an addiction is not only harmful, it is potentially lethal. While we may have been encouraged to proceed with tough love by not “enabling” a loved one, we can inadvertently push them further into their addiction. Instead, a more helpful approach would …
Why Waiting For “Rock Bottom” is Never a Good Idea
Waiting on a loved one to hit “rock bottom” before getting help for an addiction is not only harmful, it is potentially lethal. While we may have been encouraged to proceed with tough love by not “enabling” a loved one, we can inadvertently push them further into their addiction.
Instead, a more helpful approach would be to ignore the harmful rhetoric and intervene at a much earlier stage – like the grey area. It gives your loved one better chances of staying alive, and it can also prevent them from doing so much damage in the process.
Don’t Wait for Rock Bottom
I have been to countless AA meetings where the pervasive “rock bottom” myth is repeated over-and-over. The belief of many in the 12-step community is that you have to reach the depths of addiction before you can finally surrender to the disease and get help.
“He needs to go out and do more research,” Malcolm explained to me in a meeting in response to a newcomer who had relapsed. I couldn’t quite believe that a member of AA, whose only requirement of membership is a desire to stop drinking, was encouraging someone to go back to drinking until they had truly had enough.
But I experienced this more times than I wish to recall.
The reality is that not everyone reaches a rock bottom. Some people die before they reach rock bottom. Others find themselves facing a host of dangerous and life-threatening situations, such as:
- Buying substances laced with fentanyl
- Using alone
- Experiencing homelessness because a misguided parent kicked them out
- Not carrying naloxone because a loved one believes it enables drug use
People with substance use disorders really don’t need to be pushed to those depths. Instead, we could reach them much earlier at the gray area.
What is Gray Area Drinking?
Alcohol use disorder exists on a spectrum: from the gray area (less severe) to the more acute stages (rock bottom). About 90 percent of people who drink problematically do not have severe AUD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Gray Area Drinking expert, Jolene Park explains:
“We’re all familiar with the rock-bottom kind of drinking that ruins too many lives. On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who rarely drink. If you fall in between those two extremes you might identify as a gray area drinker.”
Key signs of gray area drinking, as highlighted by Park, can include:
- Intending to have one glass of wine but finishing a bottle
- Stopping drinking for periods of time but returning because you think you have control
- Thinking and rationalizing your drinking
- Allowing drinking to prevent you from achieving the life you want
Intervening in the Gray Area
Reflecting on my own drinking, I wish I’d had an intervention at an earlier stage. I drank problematically from the time I was 13 years old.
To the outside world, I appeared to have it all: a bachelor’s degree, a place to live in the city, and a good job. On the outside, I had made it. But internally, I was progressively crumbling, over two decades.
I went from drinking a bottle of wine after work (stopping occasionally) to losing all control. I was drinking around four bottles of wine a day toward the end of my addiction. If I’d had an earlier intervention where I knew that I didn’t have to sit in a church basement and listen to sad stories, I might have gotten help much sooner.
I know that is easier said than done. As a family member, you may be afraid to confront the person dependent on alcohol or drugs. Or you may have trusted the familiar sayings in the rooms of Alanon where a family member reaches a magical “rock bottom” and instantly asks for help.
Don’t Put the Intervention Off
The reality is that If loved ones wait too long, it may actually be too late. Here are some ways you can support your loved one by intervening long before that rock bottom moment manifests:
- Model alcohol free social events: suggest to your loved one that you go for a coffee date instead of hitting a bar.
- Ask if you can cook them dinner as you’d like to discuss something on your mind. Don’t confront them, but ask them if there is anything they’re struggling with and if you can better support them.
- Tell them that you are concerned about their drinking, but not in a confrontational way. Perhaps you could say that you have noticed they’re drinking more than usual and you wondered if everything is OK. Practice active listening rather than trying to solve their problems. Ask them what their options are and if there is anything you can do.
- Be prepared by educating yourself about AUD and the options available. Ensure you have these resources to hand:
- Guidelines on normal drinking limits.
- Look for gray area digital recovery options, like Tempest, Jolene Park’s Gray Area Coaching, This Naked Mind, Workit Health.
At the end of the day, you have to decide if you’d rather overcome the anxiety of approaching the subject or deal with the shame and regret of a loved one losing his or her life to addiction. Don’t delay; intervene today.
If you or someone you love is experiencing a substance use disorder, help is available. Call (800) 407-7195(Who Answers?) today to speak with a treatment specialist.