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The term "rock bottom" is often used to describe the point at which a person with an addiction is forced to acknowledge that he or she has a problem - which can lead to their seeking help. But where is rock bottom? And how do people get there?
Wende Wood points out that "rock bottom" is a subjective term. For one person, losing everything may mean losing a marriage or their home, while for another becoming homeless is not yet the end. And what rock bottom looks like will naturally depend on what someone had as a starting point. Additionally, Wood explains that it is a common misconception that one needs to arrive at the so-called bottom before reaching for help - often various opportunities occur along the way where the person is open to receiving or asking for help.
Sam Waldner explains that often the person with the addiction needs to start feeling the pain from the consequences of their actions before he or she can start making changes. The process of feeling the pain is a lengthy one, as the pain often serves as a stimulus to start one's self-defense mechanisms. These protect and maintain one's self-esteem (through the denial that one is an addict), allowing one to rationalize and continue with the behavior. In many cases, the loss of, or prospect of losing, a relationship or something of similar value can often help the person to recognize that there is a problem. Legal charges or an arrest (e.g., for possession of illegal drugs or driving under the influence) can also contribute to this awareness.
Waldner emphasizes that typically the person needs to hear a repeated message (with specific observations) from family and friends that they are seeing a problem. While this information will likely not serve as an immediate stimulus to seek help, the repetition of the overall message can help to counter the "powerful and long-maintained" element of denial.