Rock bottom

People who have a substance problem often experience unpleasant situations and circumstances. In retrospect, especially in the context of telling their personal story of substance use, problem substance use and recovery (see personal narratives) people may describe some sort of crisis or low point that, at the time or later, becomes significant in that it seems to have caused or motivated them to change and address their drug problem. Commonly this is referred to as rock bottom – a low point from which it became possible to push oneself back up again.

The concept is contested only in the sense that there may be an implication that for a person to begin to effectively address their substance use it is necessary to reach ‘rock bottom’ and have a particularly unpleasant experience. This is not the experience of all people who have addressed their problem substance use; others, for example, say that a realisation were growing older, boredom or a new personal relationship with a partner or a child was the significant change that motivated them.

It is worth noting that some people will describe a ‘rock bottom’ incident which for them, in retrospect, has significance; yet, when asked, they will concede that the incident was not the worst thing that ever happened to them or the worst situation they have been in. Also, when prompted, people will concede that, at the time, it did not motivate immediate change. It is possible that for some people a ‘rock bottom’ story is a device that helps them explain to themselves and to others the complex motivation and situation that caused them to address their substance use problem and why, on this occasion they were able to make progress while on other occasions they could not make or sustain progress.