There a general accepted platitude about alcoholism that the addict has to hit rock bottom before they can start recovery. Like most of the platitudes and accepted ‘knowledge’ about drinking and alcoholism, it is not only incorrect it is also dangerous and contributes to the problem.
Firstly why should an addict have to hit rock bottom before looking to remedy the situation? If you had a bad cough that you weren’t shaking off and you went to the doctor, what would you think if he or she said;
“Yes, this is getting quite serious. But as yet it’s still just a cough. I suggest we wait for it to develop into pneumonia, then pleurisy, then respiratory failure, then I’ll give you some antibiotics.”
Or to put it another way, imagine if you were addicted a drug that you were taking one dose of everyday at a cost of £5 that left you feeling tired and irritable all day. You have a choice of curing this addiction today or in ten years’ time. If you cure yourself in ten years’ time you’ll be up to ten doses a day, and you will have lost your family, your friends, your job, your friends and your house, you’ll have long term serious health issues and, perhaps worse than all of these things, you’ll have been very very miserable for all of those ten years.
When would you choose to cure yourself?
In fact the reason why the idea of having to hit rock bottom has become so prevalent is that addicts who have hit rock bottom have the best chance of stopping. All recreational drugs starts off being apparently enjoyable with very little downside. Over time the enjoyment decreases and the downside increases. You end up needing the drug just to feel normal, and you feel anxious and miserable without it. The less apparently enjoyable the drug, and the more detrimental the ill-effects, the more likely the addict is to be able to stop long term. The more miserable their life with the drug, the more likely they are to be able to stick with a life without it.
With alcohol this aspect is exacerbated because drinking is so widespread and such a big part of so many people’s lives. People search desperately for any excuse not to stop, to convince themselves that they don’t have a problem, and generally speaking those who have suffered the most damage from their drinking are the ones who are least likely to be able to convince themselves that they don’t have a problem so pretend to themselves that they can safely drink again.
The other problem of course that this ‘rock bottom’ belief causes is that it makes quitting drinking shameful, because it leads to the assumption that the quitter has a serious problem with alcohol and is one of the tainted few, instead of just being someone who has taken a sensible and logical decision to cut something unpleasant out of their lives.
In fact rock bottom should have absolutely no impact on your decision to quit. I have said before and continue to say, the decision to stop drinking should not be;
‘Am I alcoholic? If so stop drinking, if not continue’.
It should be;
‘From a simple costs / benefit analysis, is drinking alcohol worth doing?’
To put is another way is the slightly dulled feeling you get from each drink worth the corresponding feeling of anxiety as the drink wears off, the insomnia, the lethargy, the weight gain, the arguments, the hangovers, the blackouts and the financial cost?
If the answer is no, it’s not worth it, then the only logical thing to do is quit. The more years down the line you are the more likely you are to come to the conclusion that it’s not worth carrying on, but if you fully understand the nature of alcohol even those just starting out will find it hard to justify continuing.
As I put in a response to a facebook post in the Alcohol Explained facebook group today, it helps to keep things in perspective. Some people see alcohol as a way of life, as a defining feature of their personality, a way of coping with life. It’s none of those things, it’s just a drug that makes you feel slightly dulled, that people just happen to put into their bloodstream by drinking it, instead of injecting it, or smoking it, or snorting it.
Why should you wait for it to utterly destroy you before cutting it out of your life entirely?
Good point. Some people are motivated by wanting more out of life. Not everyone needs to wait for motivation by having nothing left to lose. One thing is key though… the motivation needs to come from within. Enablers who take away the consequences of a person’s drinking can prolong the realization that it’s time for a change. We don’t have to assume a person will hit rock bottom before they make a change. And, we don’t have to get in the way of negative consequences by trying to help in ways that cover up or slow down the process.
Another great post William
An excellent post.
excellent thanks William and so true
Hi William, great post. How is rock bottom measured anyway? What it is today, can be surpassed tomorrow by continuing on. That would make ‘rock bottom’ death! The more I enjoy my sober life, the more I see how awful I felt while still addicted to alcohol. That is what I consider my rock bottom (if that is really necessary).
What a great post, William. I have been af for 7 months now and your book has been the best help I have had. I did not hit rock bottom, but was not enjoying it anymore. Your cost/benefit analysis sums it up. On top of that, understanding the way alcohol works as described in your book, as well as the realisation that if I were to ‘pick it back up again’, I would be at the same stage in my drinking journey as when I stopped, keeps me from returning to alcohol.
It is a great shame that alcohol is viewed in such a distorted way in society. I do not preach about my af decision or even mention it to people, as they all either think you might have had a serious alcohol problem (i.e. rock bottom), or if they know me, say: but you did not have a drinking problem!
Loving your posts, William, just as much as the book. Thank you for helping me stay AF and, more importantly, enjoy it!
It would seem dangerous to have people believe there in no rock bottom. Telling people who are at the bottom that they can just continue rinking will eventually cause their deaths