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Addiction and hitting rock bottom in teenagers and adults

“Hitting rock bottom” is a phrase that almost everyone has heard when talking about the topic of addiction. For a phrase that is so important to the discussion of addiction, you may think that rock bottom could be easily defined or identified. In real life, rock bottom is a concept that means something different to each and every addict.

Generally, rock bottom refers to a time or an event in life that causes an addict to reach the lowest possible point in their disease. It is a time when the person feels like things cannot get worse for them. Their life has been damaged so badly that it seems like there is nothing good left to destroy.

A Different Meaning for Everyone

It is tempting to think that addicts need to hit their own personal rock bottom before they can ever begin the addiction recovery process, but this is not always true.  The key to understanding the concept of rock bottom is to be aware that it is a unique process for everyone. There is not a tried and true method to predict what your personal rock bottom moment will be.

Addiction changes your life in so many ways. You can often find yourself saying or doing things that you never would have considered doing before you developed an addiction. You may have sworn that you would never cheat or steal, but suddenly find yourself doing these kinds of things in order to get your drug of choice.  However, you always have a choice.  You don’t have to hit a rock bottom to make you feel so uncomfortable that you want to find sobriety.

Finally Hitting Rock Bottom

There are addicts who hit their rock bottom quickly. Others don’t hit a rock bottom for years. You don’t need focus on developing a bottom that looks like someone else’s bottom. You don’t need to sink to a specific deep, dark depth in your life in order to enter drug or alcohol addiction treatment.

If you have been addicted to drugs or alcohol for many years, you may feel like your situation is so dark or hopeless that you will never hit a rock bottom. Maybe you have gone through addiction treatment before, only to relapse almost immediately after your discharge from the program. You may find yourself asking what kind of tragedy it will take to make you give up your addiction.

While these feelings are overwhelming at times, they can also be a sign that you are looking toward the steps to seeking recovery. In some situations, you may even avoid landing in the worst rock bottom scenarios by shocking yourself into submission.

For example, if drugs have caused you to seriously fall behind on your rent, you may be in danger of losing your home. The very thought of being homeless and without a roof over your head may be enough to make you seek help.

Teenagers and rock Bottom

Teens too necessarily have to hit rock bottom in order to make changes.  In fact, the idea that someone will only change when they fined their rock bottom is inaccurate and potentially dangerous.  This kind of thinking wastes valuable time—time in which a teen could be benefiting from early prevention and treatment. Worrisome behaviours are likely to get worse and, without treatment, a teenager’s mental health and substance abuse can become more complicated and difficult to treat, and in some cases cross he point of no-return. In addition, delayed treatment and care can be more complicated, time intensive and expensive.

As mentioned above, we don’t have to wait until the teen has reached rock bottom and change can start once the right conditions are available.  This means that absolutely no wait is required to begin counselling to support teens in making healthy changes. In fact, you don’t even need to wait until they are ready to go. Good counsellors can help teens with their readiness for change. As a coach who works with young people, I love having these conversations because after a few sessions with me even extremely resistant teenagers are able to start thinking about which healthy changes, they are interested in making for themselves.

There is no need to exhaust valuable resources like supportive friends and family, housing, education, youth, good health or finances. When left intact, these protective factors create a better prognosis for recovery. We know that any substance abuse by teens increases their chances of developing a substance addiction. Teen brains are much more susceptible to addiction than adult brains. Bearing that in mind and the fact that teens can make changes at any point in their progression into addiction, I have seen the most success in cases when families and caring adults took action as soon as they caught as soon as some suspicion of substance abuse has arisen.

Which brings us back to the question of should we wait until a teen reaches rock bottom. The short answer is ‘no’.  Just as with other severe chronic conditions, we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late. Treatment should be sought as soon as there are indications of a problem.

For example, I helped a high school student quit smoking weed and avoid hitting his rock bottom when his mother gave me a call within the first few weeks of the school year. She’d gotten a call from his school after they found his vape pen in his backpack. Although the school’s protocol wasn’t to send students to counselling on their first drug offense, this student’s mother called to begin treatment because she didn’t want her son to become one more casualty in the weed epidemic.

Just like with other chronic diseases, early detection, prevention and intervention are key.  You mustn’t wait for rock bottom.  This problem is unlikely to go away on its own so let’s not ignore it. 

What should I be looking for?

Here are some ideas what vigilant adults or teens themselves have noticed that have indicated they could benefit from early intervention and recovery:

  • A family has a history of mental health or substance use, so they ask for an assessment

  • Teens who experience discrimination, bullying or rejection

  • Teens who are sad, isolating themselves or speaking vaguely about death (for example, talking about not wanting to wake up)

  • Death of a loved one or a friend

  • Finding evidence of substances or paraphernalia in a teen’s room

  • Parental conflicts

  • Someone in the teen’s family is struggling with a health or mental health concern, so the teen enters treatment to make sure they get help, too, if they need it

  • Feeling removed or disengaged from life

  • Teens who struggle to open up to others, even parents or loved ones

  • Teens who are transitioning to independent living and need additional support

  • Teens who are interested in finding or struggling to find genuine friendships

  • Teens who can’t verbalise why, but ask to see a counsellor “just to talk”

  • Teens who have lost interest in sports or hobbies they previously loved

  • Teens struggling with grades or who want to make sure they stay on track with school gains they have made


Prevention and Beyond

Early detection and intervention will allow teens to stay engaged at school, home with family and surrounded by supportive friends. This provides teens the best environment in which to gain valuable knowledge and skills they can immediately put to use in their everyday lives. Best of all, they can take with them into adulthood these perceptions, some of which may even give them an advantage over peers who have never struggled with and overcome similar challenges.

Don’t wait for your teen to hit rock bottom. I can help get them on the path to early recovery. With many years of experience as a coach and rehabilitator, I specialise in substance abuse, anxiety, depression, trauma, grief and loss and the full spectrum of physical and behavioural health. If you need help identifying or treating such problems, or you need discreet access to drug and alcohol screening, please feel free to contact me below to get your child and your family on the path to healing.

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