NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, December 14, 2015

The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change

The myth that people who have addiction problems have to "hit bottom" before they decide to change is both extremely dangerous and completely wrong.  This is an outdated concept that is still around in some recovery circles, and it has been detrimental to many people.

Recovery: The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change

Even though many people in recovery now realize that "hitting bottom" is detrimental, there are still some people in recovery who still believe it.

If you're struggling with addiction, whether it's drinking, drugging, compulsive gambling, sexual addiction or some other form of addiction, or you love someone who has an addiction problem, it's important that you understand why the "hitting bottom" myth is dangerous.

Let's take a look at a fictionalized scenario and see how believing in the "hitting bottom" concept can be dangerous and what to do if you or a loved one is stuck in this type of distorted thinking.

Ed began gambling in college.  Initially, his gambling involved sports, like gambling on the Super Bowl.  Over time, it grew to include other forms of gambling.

While in high school, Ed was able to hide his gambling from his parents.  But by the time he was a senior in college, he gambled away his tuition money, so he was forced to reveal his gambling problem to his parents.

Ed promised his parent that he would never gamble again, so they lent him the tuition with the agreement that he would pay them back when he graduated college and began working.

When he graduated college, Ed got a high-paying job in finance and he began to pay his parents back.  Little did his parents know that Ed never stopped gambling, and his secret gambling problem had progressed to include going to the casinos, playing high stakes poker with friends, and online gambling.

Recovery: The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change

After a few months, despite his high salary, Ed was making excuses to his parents as to why he was unable to make his monthly payments to them.  He was also asking to borrow more money from them.

By then, Ed's parents realized that he had not been honest with them and he was still gambling, so they confronted him about it.  At first, he denied it.  Then, he admitted that it was true.  But he felt that he could "control it" if he wanted to and rejected their suggestion to get help in therapy or to attend Gamblers Anonymous.

Recovery:  The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change

Not sure what to do, Ed's parents spoke to a close friend, Tom, who once had a gambling problem, but who overcame it by attending Gamblers Anonymous (G.A.).  Tom had been in recovery for many years, and he rejected their idea to have a family intervention to confront Ed about his gambling problem.

Instead, Tom told Ed's parents that Ed would only be willing to change after he had "hit bottom." He told them that it would be useless for them to try to persuade Ed before that, and they should let Ed find his own way to his "bottom."

Ed's parents weren't sure what to do.  They were worried that Ed's gambling would continue to get progressively worse if they didn't urge Ed to get help.  But they decided that Tom had a lot of experience in G.A. and he must know what he was talking about.  So, with much difficulty, they stood by while Ed continued to gamble, hoping that he would "hit bottom" soon before he had ruined his life.

A year later, Ed's parents were shocked and dismayed to discover that Ed was arrested for attempted fraud as part of an internal investigation in his company.  He was taken out of the company in a pair of handcuffs.

Recovery: The Myth About Having to "Hit Bottom" to Change

Fortunately, since it was his first offense, the judge mandated Ed to get into treatment, a combination of psychotherapy and Gamblers Anonymous in lieu of going to jail.

His parents attended some of his therapy sessions in order for them to understand what happened and for Ed to repair his relationship with his parents, who were hurt and angry.

During one of those sessions, Ed told his parents that, before he was arrested, he was sure that he could stop gambling at any time if he really wanted to do it.  But, after a while, he was deeply in debt to loan sharks and he was so desperate that he did what he never would have thought he would do--he tried to embezzle money from his company.

Ed took full responsibility for his actions.  But his parents realized that following Tom's advice to allow Ed to "hit bottom," rather than doing a family intervention earlier on, was ill advised.

The therapist, who had an addictions background, also advised them that "hitting bottom" was a dangerous myth.

The motivation to change can come in many different ways.

Sometimes, people get a wake up call that they're heading down a slippery slope and they need to make changes in order to avoid a disastrous end.

Other times, people make a few false starts before they make a commitment to change.

The idea of "hitting bottom" would certainly be seen as ridiculous with just about any other type of problem.  Imagine telling someone who had a progressive medical problem that s/he had to wait until the problem got much worse before s/he got help.

The idea of "hitting bottom" is just as ridiculous and dangerous when it comes to addiction.

Getting Help
If you have a loved one who is caught in the grip of an addiction, rather than waiting for the problem to get worse, express your concern.  If that doesn't work, try doing a family intervention in a loving and tactful way to let your loved one know that the family cares and is concerned.

If you're the one who is struggling with addiction, get help sooner rather than later, before there are serious consequences to you and your loved ones.

Living a healthy and fulfilling life is its own reward.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me