“We’re just waiting for her to hit rock bottom.”

“I thought this would have been rock bottom for him, but I guess it’s not.” 

Many families wait, hope and pray for their addicted loved one to hit the elusive “rock bottom”; they are convinced that an all-time low will mark the beginning of lasting recovery. For many others, however, rock bottom is a myth that comes with a trap door. Often, families unknowingly “lower the bottom” by bargaining or making accommodations in an effort to keep the peace.

Short-term solutions to the problem lead to more frustration, more hurt, and more disconnection. Addiction is a family disease, and it is easy for the lives of the other family members to become absorbed in the details of damage control and crisis management.

Creating leverage

Families often feel helpless as they wait for their loved one to ask for help or appear “ready” for treatment, but there is a healthier option available. Even if a loved one is not ready to enter treatment or take the next step, family members can still have an active role in the process by creating leverage. Creating leverage to encourage a loved one to seek treatment is often the most effective means in getting him or her into treatment. Leverage does not have to be manipulative or cruel; in fact, it can be healthy. Leverage is established through setting boundaries and communicating concern.

Some families easily identify their leverage based upon the addict’s circumstances, while others have a more difficult time recognizing their influence. Setting appropriate boundaries can include statements like, “I love you, but you can no longer live in my home and use substances. I am more than willing to offer support as you seek treatment.” By not allowing the loved one to live in their home, while also showing support during the process of finding treatment, families effectively “raise the bottom” instead of waiting for him or her to hit rock bottom. A lack of boundaries can feed codependency, which actually gives the power to the disease of addiction, but maintaining boundaries gives you control over you.

Setting healthy boundaries

For some families, raising the bottom can be challenging or seemingly impossible. Depending on a loved one’s life circumstance, such as financial independence, or if family members disagree on appropriate boundaries, creating leverage can prove to be difficult. Boundaries look different for everyone, and there is no “right” answer. There are resources like family counseling that can help navigate tough questions. This often makes the stress and confusion of how to proceed more manageable for family members, particularly when there is a difference of opinion about boundaries.

Once families decide to take a proactive approach in seeking help for their addicted loved one, it is important not to sabotage the urgency of this process. When families embark on their own recovery journey, they become more willing to take direction from professionals who are trained in addiction, join a support group, and/or seek individual and family counseling. Then, waiting for the elusive “rock bottom” diminishes and the real discussion about “raising the bottom” takes place.

When rock bottom seems like the only way forward for your loved one, you are not alone. You do not have to be a victim to this disease, and you are not helpless. You have the power to raise the bottom.