financial ruin, 

suicide attempt,


loss of custody, 

employment termination…

What does rock bottom mean to you? People often say that someone needs to hit rock bottom before they want help with their addiction. And because of this we’ll see family members watching their addicted loved ones hit rock bottom before initiating change. 

The truth of the matter is that many clients with substance use disorder never really hit rock bottom, or come even close to it, for that matter. High performance bankers, principals of high schools, doctors, surgeons, nurses, teachers, professors, PTA moms, stay at home parents, coaches and other professionals can all be functioning alcoholics, active drug users, or prescription addicts for years. 

Behind closed doors active addiction can look like: isolation, verbal abuse, physical abuse, suicide ideation, overindulging behaviors, hopelessness, unsafe coping skills, or unhealthy habits that may not be considered “rock bottom.” More times than not I have heard the following statements from someone in active addiction: 

“I’m not like them.”

“I can stop any time.”

“I am holding down my job just fine.”

“My life is still put together very well.”

“I am not jeopardizing my family in any way.” 

The Myth of Waiting for “Rock Bottom”

Most of the time we believe it’s necessary for our partner to hit rock bottom in order to agree to treatment. Or sometimes we assume that they will have internal motivation once they hit rock bottom to voluntarily enter treatment. But this is less often the case. Family members will begin the journey with some misconceptions of their own, such as:

“Kicking them out will only worsen the addiction.”

“If he cares about me enough, he will seek treatment.”

“I am afraid if I practice tough love, I will lose my loved one forever.”

“If I give her an ultimatum she will want to change and enter treatment for help.”

Frequently, a hard set boundary from a loved one such as a parent or spouse is the catalyst for someone entering treatment. Typically, this is done quite reluctantly but done nonetheless. With feet dragging, attitudes sour and demeanor angry, clients enter treatment blaming their loved ones for putting them in treatment. 

In the absence of rock bottom, how do I get my loved one into treatment?  

Create boundaries.

Boundaries are the limits and rules that we set for ourselves within relationships. They stem from our values, which allow us to be vulnerable within our close relationships. Most of us want to live by the standards of aligning our values with our actions, which is done by exploring, setting, and implementing our boundaries. 

A boundary is never set against someone, it is set for yourself to align your values and actions. Exploring your values is the starting point of setting your boundaries. If my boundary is that I want a smoke free healthy environment for my home, then I will set a boundary of no smoking in my house. For example; this is not set against my mother (who smokes) but rather to anyone who enters my household. 

Using I statements to implement your boundaries is a good place to begin. Once boundaries are set, and implemented, they will need to be upheld. Crossing our boundaries should result in an action outcome, meaning; if someone smokes in my house, I will ask them to leave. Without an action outcome, the boundary has no value or weight held. Our loved one suffering from a substance use disorder may try to test our boundaries to see how far they can be bent. Be firm, be clear and be action filled, if needed, when setting your boundaries. 

We begin with taking a look at our values. If I value an equal partnership within my marriage, I will set boundaries to protect that partnership; such as “I will only be in a marriage with someone who is able to be fully present within the partnership, clean of any substance use.”

Here’s how you’ll proceed: take some time to explore your boundaries by allowing yourself to discover what is important to you in your life, then set boundaries based on the values that mean the most to you, next share your boundaries with your loved ones using assertive communication, lastly implement the action plan of what happens when your boundaries are crossed. 

  1. Set boundaries for yourself that display that you love them enough to only support sobriety. 
  2. Intentionally set boundaries that promote lifestyle changes which only supports sobriety. 
  3. Accept the reality that rock bottom may never be hit, therefore allow external motivation to be the reason your loved one gets into treatment. 

Need additional help or support? 

Remember the common myths that about hitting rock bottom: 

  • We have to hit rock bottom to want to get sober
  • We are ready for rehab once we hit rock bottom
  • We wait for rock bottom before seeking treatment

You do not have to do this alone. Substance use disorder is a disease and allowing yourself and your loved one the assistance needed regardless of hitting rock bottom or not will give you the opportunity to have some guided help along the way. Support can look different for everyone, whether it’s in-patient treatment, attending a substance use facility program or getting help with a substance use counselor or therapist, you may never see rock bottom before it’s already past the point of needing help. 

If you are ready to schedule an appointment and live in Arizona, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas, we can help. Contact us to get started. We offer virtual and in-person sessions.